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.

With age comes stories, and the stories our old Earth tells can be seen in its rock formations. Here are 20 of the most astonishing geological wonders of the world.

1. The Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

From Tanzania to Eritrea, the earth is being wrenched apart along the Great Rift Valley and will one day form a new ocean. Volcanic activity abounds along this rift, particularly in the Danakil Depression. This dramatic region is home to more than thirty young volcanoes, sulphurous yellow hot springs and otherworldly salt plains. Check with the Foreign Office before travelling, as this is a geologically and politically volatile area.

2. Cal Orko, Bolivia

Not only is Cal Orko home to the world’s largest group of dinosaur footprints – over 5000 of them – but nature has also kindly presented them for your viewing pleasure on an 80m-high vertical rock face. You could be forgiven for thinking that dinosaurs could walk up walls, but in fact the land surrounding this ancient watering hole was itself shifted skywards by subsequent tectonic movements.

3. Parc National de l’Ankarana, Madagascar

Arriving at Parc National de l’Ankarana feels not unlike taking your first steps onto another planet. Gangly-limbed lemurs bounce effortlessly from ridge to ridge of this intricate rocky maze, comprised of spiky limestone pinnacles that have been eroded by water. Down below, scorpions take refuge in hidden crevices and crocodiles cruise the underground rivers that flow between secret pockets of forest.

4. Colca Canyon, Peru

More than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and thought to be the second-deepest canyon in the world, Peru’s Colca Canyon is totally breathtaking. Created by a massive geological fault between two huge volcanoes, there is still evidence of pre-Inca terracing on its slopes. The Mirador Cruz del Condor is the most popular spot to take in the views and watch soaring condors.

5. Underground river, Palawan, The Philippines

A secret world all of its own, the Cabayugan snakes along for 8.2km underneath the karst landscape of the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. The waterway has eroded a series of vast chambers on its journey, which are full of stalactites and stalagmites – not to mention more than 400,000 bats – before it eventually flows out into the open South China Sea.

6. Mingsha singing sand dunes, China

While you probably won’t see them appearing on X Factor any time soon, the Gobi Desert’s singing sand dunes are still a captivating curiosity. As visitors camel trek along the spine of the dunes and the wind whips up the towering sands they emit an unmistakable humming sound; the phenomenon is thought to be the result of avalanching grains bouncing off each other.

7. Mount Roraima, Brazil/Guyana/Venezuela

It’s not hard to see why Roraima has been cited as the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. One of the oldest rock formations on earth, it’s hard to believe that this mist-shrouded table-top mountain (or tepui) is made up of sediments that used to sit on the seabed. Almost 3000m tall, Roraima is threaded with stunning silvery waterfalls and lush jungle.

8. Knockan Crag, Scotland

Huge geological forces once pummelled and folded the mountains around Knockan like puff pastry. A huge section of young rocks (a mere 500 million years old) were squeezed on top of some of the world’s oldest (which had over 1.5 billion candles to blow out on their last birthday). Scoured by glaciers and gnawed at by the sea, the resulting scenery is bleak but beautifully striking.

9. Thrihnukagigur Volcano, Iceland

Hard to pronounce, Thrihnukagigur offers the unique opportunity to descend into the bowels of a dormant volcano, which last erupted over 4000 years ago. Tours involve a 45-minute hike over a lava field and a thrilling 120m descent into the empty magma chamber in an open cable lift. The crater is vast – big enough to house the Statue of Liberty – and the rocks are kaleidoscopic.

10. Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii, USA

Sitting as it does in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, above an intense volcanic hotspot, the rocks beneath Hawaii are constantly simmering away, and continuously creating new land. Kilauea is a shallow-profile shield volcano from which ropey, pahoehoe lava meanders overland and through subterranean tunnels all the way to the ocean, where it drips and sizzles into the waters below like pancake batter.

11. The Blue Hole, Belize

Staring out of Belize’s Lighthouse Reef atoll like the pupil of an enormous aquatic eye, it’s hard to imagine that this giant sinkhole once sat above sea level. Perfectly spherical, the Blue Hole is full of stalactites and stalagmites that were initially created above-ground, and has become a popular site for divers, including the likes of Jacques Cousteau.

12. Antelope Canyon, Arizona, USA

Antelope Canyon’s undulating sandstone walls have been smoothed and polished to perfection by years of rainwater and flooding. The slot canyon is still prone to flash floods on occasion, but visit on a fair weather day and you’ll be in for a treat, as the walls turn burning shades of amber, bronze and gold in the shafts of sunlight that peek through from above.

13. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Just off the coast, near Hanoi, an estimated 1969 islands pepper the waters of Ha Long Bay – one of the most spectacular places in all of Vietnam. These limestone towers may not be unique, but nowhere else can they be seen on such an impressive scale. Arriving in a wooden junk, visitors can explore a clutch of gorgeous caves inside some of the structures, or swim amongst the glimmering phosphorescent plankton.

14. Nitmiluk Gorge, Australia

Carved into the Arnhem Land plateau by the Katherine River, this 12km-long gorge is the centrepiece of the Nitmiluk National Park. Surrounded by sheer ochre cliffs, with a scattering of waterfalls and walking trails, river cruising – or for the more adventurous, kayaking – is a magnificent way to see this gaping hole in the Katherine countryside.

15. Brighstone Bay, Isle of Wight, England

One of Europe’s best spots for finding dinosaur bones, Brighstone Bay is a great place to embrace your inner Indiana Jones and join a fossil-hunting tour. As the sea eats away at this section of coast new specimens are continually coming to light and you could find yourself getting up close and personal with all manner of giant beasties, including 5m-tall Iguanodons.

16. Sperrgebiet National Park, Namibia

Namibia’s newest national park, Sperrgebiet has long been out of bounds to visitors and is still tricky to access. One of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots, this semi-desert region is most famous for its epic sand dunes, which are covered in alluvial diamonds; in the nineteenth century they were collected under a full moon so that it was easier to see them sparkling.

17. Pulpit Rock, Norway

Soaring a stomach-churning 600m into the air, Pulpit Rock and the surrounding fjords were all gouged into the Norwegian landscape by glaciation during the last Ice Age. The rock’s smooth top was planed away by ice and the deep cracks in its sturdy granite are also the result of pressure release from melting glaciers. One day it will cleave away from the mountain completely, but hopefully not before you can pose for a photo.

18. Gold Reef City, Johannesburg, South Africa

Don your hard hat and grab a torch for the unique opportunity to explore a historic underground mine on a tour of the world’s richest gold reef. Once you’ve risen from the murky depths of the 226m mine shaft you can see what motivated prospectors and miners for yourself, with a live molten pour of the shiny stuff.

19. Giant crystal caves, Mexico

Made all the more special by the fact that they are so difficult to reach, Mexico’s giant crystal caves were originally discovered accidentally by silver miners. Extreme conditions of around sixty degrees centigrade and up to one-hundred percent humidity have allowed the crystals to grow up to 12m long, creating a psychedelic landscape that wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi film.

Meteor Crater, Arizona, USA

The world’s best-preserved meteor impact site, Arizona’s Meteor Crater is irrefutable evidence that objects from outer space can, and do, collide with the earth. Thought to have landed at a speed of around 40,000 miles per hour, this particular meteorite made a dent almost a mile wide and over 170m deep; the hollow was even used as an official training site for the Apollo astronauts.

The brakes grind then release and you’re off, squeaking and squealing down a roller-coaster-like track for what might just be the train ride of your life. This is the Flåmsbana, a shiny, pine-green pleasure train that plunges nearly a kilometre in a mere fifty minutes. The unforgettable ride takes you from the heady frozen heights of the Norwegian mountains in Myrdal right down to the edge of the icy-blue waters of the Aurlandsfjord in the picturesque village of Flåm.

On the train, the old-fashioned carriage interior is wood-panelled and fitted with wide, high-backed benches which transport you back to the 1920s when the train was first built; it took over four years to lay the 20km track which spirals and zigzags down around hairpin bends and through twenty hand-dug tunnels during the course of its short journey. As you might imagine the views are spectacular; to accommodate this, enormous, over-sized windows were fitted to ensure you don’t miss a thing, regardless of where you happen to be seated.

As it runs all year, the train is a lifeline in the winter months for fjord inhabitants who were previously cut off by the long frozen winters. But for the best views, stick to late spring and summer when the ice and snow-melt create majestic,
crashing waterfalls (don’t miss the close-range view of Kjosfossen) that seem to leap and spring from every crevice in the sheer, verdant cliffs.

The Flåmsbana offers an experience that’s at the same time glamorous, hair-raising and magical. The dizzy inclines and thunderous soundtrack of crashing waterfalls will give even the most seasoned rider a shiver of excitement, and if you can’t help but conjure up images of runaway trains, just remember there are five independent sets of brakes – a necessary precaution and a very reassuring feature.

To get to the Flåmsbana take the train from Bergen to Myrdal (via Voss). You can buy your ticket all the way through to Flåm at the Bergen train station, which means you’ll be able to jump right on the train when you arrive in Myrdal. Visit www.flaamsbana.no for more.

 

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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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Alpine tundra, barren volcanic craters, steaming springs and iridescent lakes – the sheer diversity on the Tongariro Crossing makes it probably the best one-day tramp in the country. The wonderfully long views are unimpeded by the dense bush that crowds most New Zealand tracks, and from the highest point you can look out over almost half the North Island with the lonely peak of Mount Taranaki dominating the western horizon.

The 16km hike crosses one corner of the Tongariro National Park – wild and bleak country, encompassing the icy tops of nearby Mount Ruapehu, which is, at 2797m, the North Island’s highest mountain. Catch the Crossing on a fine day and it is a hike of pure exhilaration. The steep slog up to the South Crater sorts out the genuinely fit from the aspirational, then just as the trail levels out, Mount Ngauruhoe (2291m) invites the keen for a two-hour side-trip up its scoria slopes. Ngauruhoe famously starred as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films, and you can live out all your hobbit fantasies as you look down its gently steaming crater. Getting back on track is a heart-pounding, hell-for-leather scree run back down the mountain – in just fifteen minutes you cover what took an hour and a half to ascend.

The gaping gashes and sizzling fissures around Red Crater make it a lively spot to tuck into your sandwiches and ponder the explosive genesis of this whole region. From here it is mostly downhill past Emerald Lake, its opaque waters a dramatic contrast to the shimmering surface of Blue Lake just ahead. With the knowledge that you’ve broken the back of the hike you can relax on the veranda of Ketetahi Hut gazing out over the tussock to glistening Lake Taupo in the distance. Rejuvenated, you pass the sulphurous Ketetahi Hot Springs on the final descent, down to the green forest and the welcome sight of your bus. Tired but elated you settle back in the seat dreaming of a good feed and the chance to relive the events of the day over a couple of beers.

The Tongariro Crossing typically takes 6–8hrs and requires a good level of fitness. See www.doc.govt.nz for updates on track conditions.

 

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As Quebec’s Arctic north begins to open its doors to tourists, Phoebe Smith voyages to Nunavik to discover Inuit life and woodland caribou in Canada’s greatest wilderness…

“There, a caribou – do you see it?” asked Suzie as I trained my eyes on the green thicket on the opposite riverbank. As hard as I tried I couldn’t see the deer for the trees. This was not a good start to my wildlife-watching trip to Nunavik.

I was in the depths of the Torngat Mountains somewhere on the border between the national park of the same name, and the adjacent Parc national Kuururjuaq in Québec. Made up of gargantuan fjords and glaciated valleys, and a smattering of peaks so tall and serrated you’d think they’d been borrowed from the Himalaya, between them the two parks span the length of the Labrador Peninsula.

But these are not your normal national parks. There are no roads, no designated campsites, no signposted trails or “you are here” maps – these parks offers true immersion in the outdoors. Even the nearest visitor centre is 100km away back in the community of Kangiqsualujjuaq.

And I hadn’t even begun my journey there; I had started in the gateway to this whole region – Kuujjuaq – accessed by a two-hour flight from Montréal. Up until now, other than a handful of intrepid Canadian tourists, the only visitors here have been temporary construction or oil workers, but all that is about to change: the government have begun investing money in tourism.

Photo: Neil S Price

On arrival I met Allan, an Inuit man who had lived here since birth. “Most kids leave when they finish high school,” he explained as he drove me around his hometown, pointing out the power plant (the whole community is run on generators), one of two general stores (where you can buy anything from a loaf of bread to a Skidoo snowmobile or a three piece suite) and the collection of traditional tents where teens like to stay with their friends in the summer to experience how their ancestors used to live. “They like to go to college in Montréal or Québec to experience life away from Nunavik,” he said. “But most of them come back. The town is growing all the time – things are changing.”

Kuujjuaq is changing. There are now two hotels in town. Originally built to house the temporary workers from “down south”, the demand is such that they are now adding a second storey to one and updating the furnishings and décor, hoping to entice tourists.

Later that evening excitement was brewing in the one restaurant in town as word got around that overseas visitors were here. The owner of the general store came over to say hello and the waitress took it as an opportunity to try out her English (in schools here they are taught Inuktitut first, then can choose between French and English). While fish was the main thing on the menu, the elusive caribou also featured. Having seen the animal so readily available to eat in the town, the live variety was something I was desperate to see.

The visitor centre, a 45min flight away at Kangiqsualujjuaq, offered a promising start. There was an impressive exhibition of animals I might see in Parc national Kuururjuaq, from wolves to polar bears, and golden eagles to (hopefully) caribou.

Here I met Suzie Morgan, an Inuit elder who used to live out in the heart of the Torngats. She grew up there with her family and explained how every year they would follow the Koroc River from east to west with the seasons. On the Labrador Sea they would feast on seals – eating their meat, using blubber for cooking oil and the fur to craft waterproof boots to keep their feet dry. When the seals migrated they would head inland, stalking the caribou herds as they moved through the forests, sometimes meeting other Inuit families as they went, moving constantly.

Photo: Neil S Price

Now Suzie lives in town and has a house with electric, heating and satellite TV, but she agreed to accompany me on the flight into Torngat to see her old stomping ground. As we bounced on the thermals above the peaks she gestured down to a bend in the river. It looked like any of the others we passed, but for her it marked the spot where all the Inuit families used to meet up once a year for a celebration.

We descended towards a dense forest. Within seconds we were landing amongst the undergrowth and came to a stop in the middle of nowhere. Here Suzie lead us down to the river where she remembered her father heading into the mountains to hunt caribou – before she spotted one herself and pointed it out to me – which I still couldn’t see.

She proceeded to open a basket containing a frozen Arctic char and sliced it, offering it out to us. I asked her if it was hard living out here.

“But there is everything you need,” she replied, gesturing to the plants that surrounded her. “From food to eat, to water to drink, materials for clothes and medicine if you get sick, nature provides it all for us. You just need to know what you’re looking at.”

And, as I listened to more of her tales, I stared over at the river once more. In between the thick woodland I began to make out the shape of a caribou. It’s white fur giving it away. The longer I looked the more began to emerge. One by one they cautiously stomped through the bushes. A place that at first seemed to offer nothing but a lonely wilderness was now, slowly, revealing itself to be full of life.  I couldn’t help but smile – this was only the beginning.

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Kenya is the safari capital of East Africa. Elephants, buffalo and wildebeest roam across vast plains, flamingos in their thousands wade in lake shallows, lions doze on sun-baked savannahs and herds of hippos graze by river banks. Yet in the scramble to see the country’s wildlife, local culture often gets overlooked and tribal people have been marginalized from the financial benefits of their land’s natural riches. Happily, there is now a new breed of lodges where the local tribes manage the camp, train as guides and receive a share of the profits, which go towards environmental and wildlife conservation. Below are some of these progressive lodges where local guides will take you on some of the best safaris in Africa.

Lewa Safari Camp

Chances are you’ll tick off the Big Five while on safari in the 250-square-kilometre Lewa Conservancy in the foothills of Mount Kenya. Primarily a sanctuary for endangered animals, Lewa is home to all the big game, including about ten percent of Kenya’s black rhinos (about 45), twenty percent of its white rhinos (about 35) and 25 percent of the world’s Grévy’s zebras (about 500). As well as the usual game drives, there are bush walks and camel-trekking safaris led by local Maasai. All profits from Lewa Safari Camp go to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (www.lewa.org), which funds education and medical clinics in the communities adjacent to the conservancy.

The camp is closed in April and November. Lewa is approximately five hours’ drive from Nairobi. For directions and more information about the camp see www.lewasafaricamp.com.

Amboseli Porini Camp

Come to Amboseli Porini for some of the best birdwatching in Africa, to see elephants, lions, leopards, wildebeest and giraffes, and for spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro. The camp is in the Selenkay Conservation Area, a 60-square-kilometre private game reserve bordering the northern boundary of Amboseli National Park. It is co-owned by the local Maasai and Gamewatcher Safaris – a Nairobi-based travel company which organizes Maasai-guided walks as well as day and night safaris into the conservancy and the national park. Track game with the Maasai and you’ll learn a trick or two from the people who have lived here for centuries.

Gamewatcher Safaris also operates Maasai-guided safaris at Porini Rhino Camp in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Mara Porini Camp in the Ol Kinyei Conservancy and Porini Lion Camp in the Olare Orok Conservancy. For prices and reservations at each camp see www.porini.com.

Eagle View

Superbly positioned for a close view of the migration of wildebeest and zebra along the northern plains of the Maasai Mara, Basecamp’s Eagle View far off the beaten track. Set on an escarpment in the Mara Naboisho Conservancy – one of the most remote and undeveloped parts of the Mara – there are nine tented suites overlooking the Koiyaki river. The lodge offers day and night drives, and even walking safaris with the local Maasais. The game here is as good as anywhere else in the park – with all those wildebeest running around there are lots of predators about.

Fly from Nairobi to Siana (www.airkenya.com), from where you will be collected by arrangement. The wildebeest migration is from mid-June to the end of October. Wilderness Journeys runs safaris based at Koiyaki Wilderness Camp; for prices and bookings see www.wildernessjourneys.com,

Il N’gwesi and Tassia Lodges

Both these luxury lodges lie among the wild scrubland and ancient migratory routes of northern Kenya. Il N’gwesi is on a rocky outcrop by the Ngare Ndare River on the edge of the dramatic Mukogodo Hills. There are six double thatched bandas and an infinity pool with wonderful views of the Samburu Game Reserve and the Mathews Range. Tassia Lodge is perched on the edge of a rocky bluff, looking out over the Northern Frontier District towards Samburu, Shaba and the Lolokwe Mountain. The lodge has six rooms (including a children’s bunkhouse which sleeps six) and is a four-hour walk or a morning’s game drive from Il N’gwesi.

Both Tassia and Il N’gwesi are owned and run by local Maasai, who lead guided safaris and birdwatching tours in the Ngare Ndare River Valley – where you’ll have a good chance of seeing elephants, buffalo, lions, wild dogs, hyenas, cheetahs and leopards. This is community-owned pastoral land, so while you’re out on safari expect to come across herders and their cattle – and the real Africa.

For more information about the camp see www.lewa.org/visit-lewa/community-lodges. You can book both camps through Nairobi-based travel company Let’s Go Safaris (www.uniglobeletsgotravel.com).

 

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Earlier this year we gave one of you a chance to customise your own round the world trip and win an iPad. Now, our lucky winner Moira Ashely is back from the USA, and she kept us updated throughout her trip. Watch this interactive presentation in full screen to follow her footsteps and read all about her exploration of the USA’s southwest:

If you fancy exploring the USA head to our destination page for inspiration and buy the Rough Guide to the USA to help plan your trip. Book hostels for your trip here and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

If you’re planning an autumnal escape, check out where our editors and writers have chosen as their favourite destinations at this time of year.

Madagascar

Alison Roberts, Travel Editor: As if you needed an excuse to visit this ecotourism paradise, autumn is the perfect time of year to visit Madagascar. The weather is at its most pleasant and birdwatching is at its best. It’s also baby lemur season and you’ll stand a good chance of spotting new arrivals hitching a lift through the forest on their mothers’ backs.

The Cotswolds, England

Rachel Mills, travel editor: The crowds of tourists have left and the historic villages are sleepy once again. The cool and cloudy weather suits a cream tea, Westonbirt Arboretum blazes in autumnal glory and the picturesque Cotswold Way begs to be explored on foot.

Paso Robles, California, USA

Tim Chester, former Web Editor: The hordes flock to Napa or Sonoma, but an undiscovered treat lies further down the Californian coast. Nestled among rolling hills almost equidistant from LA and San Fran, this much quieter wine region offers gorgeous views and irresistible Petite Syrahs at every turn.

Nepal

Shafik Meghji, co-author, The Rough Guide to Nepal: With the monsoon out of the way, autumn is the best time to visit Nepal. The clear, dry weather is ideal for trekking and white water rafting, as the rapids are exciting but (generally) manageable. There are also two fascinating Hindu festivals: Dasain and Tihaar.

Crete, Greece

Heidi Fuller-Love, writer: For deserted beaches, great meze and a big bite of real Crete, Sitia in the wild east of the island is a great place to go in autumn. There are loads of – very alcoholic – raki festivals, plenty of archaeological sites with free entry, and hundreds of wild, raki-fuelled Cretan music nights (look out for the posters) where you can dance until dawn to the sound of the lively lyra.

Wester Ross, Scotland

Neil McQuillian, travel editor: The otherworldly light; the wonderful, affordable seafood (from salmon smoked in back-garden sheds to £5 tubs of squat lobster); and the magic of autumn mushroom foraging. It’s particularly good after a rare, but scorching Scottish summer.

Italy

Ed Wright, senior editor: The flavours and colours of Italy take on a warm golden hue for the truffle-hunting season and the harvest festivals of autumn. Piemonte is the destination for truffles, notably Alba for its elusive white variety, whereas the vendemmia (autumn grape harvest) centres on Tuscany. Food festivals and celebrations spring up throughout October & November, so you’re sure to find one wherever food & drink are prized.

Gruyére, Switzerland

Andy Turner, Senior Editor: Autumn is a great time to hike in Switzerland – the trails are free of summer crowds and the Alpine slopes are cloaked in colour. Try the Chemin du Gruyère – a 3hr trail between a chocolate factory and the legendary cheese-making centre of Gruyère.

Franche-Comte, France

Meera Dattani, writer: It’s not the most famous spot in France, but this easterly region, which borders Switzerland, is lovely in the autumn months. If you’re brave, you can still camp, otherwise autumn is the perfect time to go mushroom picking in the forests or hiking and mountain biking in the Jura valleys – before guilt-free indulging on Comté cheese and Jura wines. Two of my favourite towns are Besancon on the River Doubs and Pontarlier in the mountains.

Tulum, Mexico

Eleanor Aldridge, Travel Editor: Hurricane season ends in October, so late autumn is the perfect time to laze, margarita in hand, on a white-sand beach, or explore the Mayan ruins inland.

Stockholm, Sweden

Steve Vickers, writer: Stunning snowy spires and dark skies provide the dramatic autumn backdrop for Stockholm’s international film festival which is held annually in November.

Snowdonia, Wales

Ben Lerwill, writer: You wouldn’t want to forget your raincoat, but there’s something about autumn’s changing colours and long, chilly walks that brings the best out of the mountains. Post-hike pub session in front of an open fire, anyone?

Rajasthan, India

Lottie Gross, Web Editor: With the monsoon largely out of the way, autumn is relatively cool (by Indian standards) in Rajasthan – making it a great time to explore this colourful desert region. A camel safari in Jaisalmer will take you deep into the desert to sleep under the stars, and the romantic city of Udaipur is the perfect location for a slower pace of life.

Paris, France

Michael Turnbull, writer: Personally I find Autumn one of the most romantic seasons so it makes sense to spend it in one of the world’s most romantic cities. My favourite spot in Paris is the Père Lachaise cemetery, a place oozing typically French gothic appeal. It may not sound that romantic, but it’s filled with the stories of others’ lives, and is perfect for taking long walks with your significant other.

As autumn looms in the north and spring is blossoming in the south, October is a beautiful month around the world. From the last of that European sunshine, to the wacky festivities of Halloween in the USA, here are the best places to visit in October.

Watch nature’s giants, Península Valdés, Argentina

Every year, between mid-June and mid-December, majestic southern right whales come to breed in the waters surrounding Península Valdés in northeastern Patagonia. Weighing up to 50 tonnes and measuring up to 18m in length, these cetaceans were once a favoured target for whalers – they were the “right” whales to harpoon because they are slow, float when killed and yield lots of oil – but are now protected from the moment they enter Argentine waters. October is an ideal time to spot them, as well as elephant seals, penguins and orcas (killer whales).

Get some late summer sun, Crete, Greece

While autumn may be setting in across Europe, it is still possible to catch some late summer sun if you head south. Crete has the longest summers in Greece, and you can still swim in the sea and lounge on the beach well into October. If you’re feeling a bit more energetic then October is also a great time to hike through Crete’s dramatic Samariá Gorge – the arduous but rewarding 16km route takes you past pine forests, abandoned villages, and sheer rock faces.

Party hard, Ibiza, Spain

The start of October heralds the end of Ibiza’s elongated summer season and as the hedonists prepare to head home, the clubs like to sign off in style. Highlights of Ibiza’s epic closing parties can be spent with the top resident DJs at the world famous Pacha, with its five rooms of various musical mayhem, and the converted airport hangar club DC10, where 1500 revellers can dance the night (and following morning) away.

Go white-water rafting, Nepal

Nepal is one of the best places in the world to go white-water rafting, with an array of options from easy half-day trips for first-timers to epic, week-long adventures to challenge even expert paddlers. The peak rafting (and kayaking) season is from mid-October to November, when the rapids are exciting but more manageable than during the monsoon. Two highlights are the Bhote Koshi, the steepest and hardest of the country’s raftable rivers, and the Upper Kali Gandaki descent, an exciting route that can easily be added on to a trek in the Annapurna region.

Browse and buy leading art, London, UK

The annual October Frieze Art Festival (one-day tickets from £32) in London is the UK’s leading contemporary art fair. Visitors can view – and, if their budgets allow, buy – works by over 1,000 leading artists from around the world. The event, which also features debates, lectures, film screenings and musical performances, coincides with Frieze Masters, a linked event that showcases artworks made before the turn of the year 2000.

See Desierto florido, Chile

Most of the time the semi-desert plains between the town of Vallenar and the city of Copiapó in northern Chile are covered by little more than cacti, sparse patches of shrubs and little else. However, every four to five years or so a transformation takes place and the landscape is briefly covered by an immense carpet of multi-coloured flowers. The phenomenon, known as the desierto florido (“flowering desert”), varies greatly in intensity and is nigh on impossible to predict: it generally takes place from early September to late October in years when there has been an unusually high level of rainfall during the winter.

Dress up for Halloween, USA

Halloween isn’t just for kids. The biggest event in New York is in Greenwich Village, with a parade involving tens of thousands of participants in wildly imaginative costumes, plus puppets, circus performers, artists, dancers, and music from around the world. As you might expect, New Orleans also celebrates Halloween with some style – expect raucous parades, ghost tours, huge street parties, costume competitions, and a late, late night.

Celebrate Durga Puja, Kolkata, India

Known elsewhere in India as Dussehra, Durga Puja is the most important festival of the year for Bengali Hindus, and nowhere is it more spectacularly celebrated than Kolkata. It marks the slaying of the buffalo demon Mahisasura by the ten-armed goddess Durga, symbolising more generally the victory of good over evil. The festival climaxes at the end of the fortnight, with thousands of lavish papier-mâché Durga idols parading through the city’s streets before being immersed in the Hooghly River.

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