Reykjavík is one of Europe’s smaller and saner capitals. If you’re more used to the traffic-clogged streets of other major european cities, the sense of space and calm here will come as a breath of fresh air.

Even in the heart of this Reykjavík, nature is always in evidence – there can be few other cities in the world, for example, where greylag geese regularly overfly the busy centre – and escaping the crowds and finding a spot of peace and tranquillity is relatively easy.

From the new Pocket Rough Guide to Reykjavík, here are a few of our favourite places to get away from it all.

1. Hafnarfjörður

Hop on the bus for the short ride to Hafnarfjörður, Reykjavík’s southern neighbour. In comparison with the capital, the streets here are all but empty of visitors.

2. Víðey

For just 1100kr you can ride the ferry to Viðey for great views of Reykjavík and the surrounding coastline. Viðey boasts some great hiking trails, too, offering a real chance to commune with nature in the city.

3. Reykjanes Peninsula

With your own transport, a drive around the southwestern point of the Reykjanes Peninsula, through the lava landscapes between Gríndavík and Hafnir, is especially rewarding.

Image by Lottie Gross

4. Öskjuhlíð

The forested slopes of this city park south of the centre are the perfect place to escape the crowds. Pack a picnic and find your own shady glade among the trees.

5. South of Hallgrímskirkja

The streets south of Hallgrímskirkja, notably Njarðargata, Baldursgata and Óðinsgata, are relatively unexplored by visitors to the city. A stroll here is a chance to see residential Reykjavík.

6. Sun terraces, Sundhöllin

Sheltered from the wind, the outdoor terraces at the swimming pool here are a wonderful spot to catch the rays (in the buff) on a warm day – and they’re little known to visitors.

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

Backpacking Thailand can mean staying in fun-packed hostels and idyllic beach bungalows, eating noodles so tasty and so cheap you’ll swear off all other food groups and climbing aboard everything from an overnight train to a lolloping elephant.

But it also means following a well-worn route – one that has sprouted an entire industry to service it, and sometimes, sadly, to take advantage of it.

Sidestep those scams and dodge the dangers with our top tips for making the most of backpacking Thailand.

1. Be respectful – know the etiquette

Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles for a reason, but those smiles can quickly disappear if you don’t respect the culture. The feet are considered the lowest part of the body so never point them (especially the soles) towards somebody, especially if that somebody is a statue of Buddha. The head is considered most sacred so don’t touch people on the head, even children.

2. Eat bravely

One of the best things about travelling in Thailand is the food and you’ll find the tastiest – and cheapest – Thai noodles and curries at the street food stalls.

Be brave and follow the locals, they know which places have the highest standards, and the more people eating means more turnover and fresher ingredients.

3. Embrace public transport

Yes, the tuk tuk is an experience you mustn’t miss but to get proper mileage under your belt (and to get between Bangkok and the highlights of Chiang Mai, the southern islands and Kanchanaburi) you’re going to need to get to grips with the Thai bus service (Baw Khaw Saw or BKS).

Government-run, it’s reliable and extensive, with a BKS station in almost every town. Book your tickets here the day before you want to travel if and take the overnight first class bus to save on a night’s accommodation.

These generally stop somewhere en route for you to eat and will have reclining seats and a toilet on board. Bring a warm jacket to wrap up in, earplugs and an eye shade and prepare to arrive very early in the morning.

4. Timing is everything

The best time to visit Thailand is between November and February, when the monsoons finish for the year and temperatures are at coolest. This is also peak season though so if saving money and avoiding crowds is more important to you than sunbathing, the wet season (May to October) could be a better bet. To see all the highlights at a reasonable pace you’re going to need at least a month, though two is better.

5. Don’t be fooled

That tuk tuk driver stopping you on the street to tell you it’s a national holiday and that temple you’re about to visit is closed? It’s almost certainly not, he or she may just want to take you to their cousin’s carpet factory or sister’s gem shop.

Don’t be fooled by official looking uniforms, cheap or free tuk tuk tours or one day only gem sales either – unfortunately all are scams set up to part you from your travel funds, usually in exchange for a worthless ‘gem’ you can sell when you get back home

And don’t even think about getting involved in the sex industry – prostitution may be rife in Thailand but one thing it’s not is legal.

6. Agree a price before you ride

Be it a taxi or a tuk tuk, you need to agree a price for your journey in advance. Taxi drivers are meant to use the meter so ask them to and if they say no move on along the rank to the next driver.

Tuk tuks should be haggled over – ask your hostel for a rough estimate on current rates and stand firm. Though it also pays to remember that haggling over 20 baht is about equivalent to getting in a stress over 40p or 60 cents – sometimes it just isn’t worth it.

7. Pack light

You’re going backpacking for the freedom – so don’t weigh yourself down. Buy a light backpack and fill it only with the essentials.

You’ll need layers for those chilly bus journeys, a few items of underwear you can wash repeatedly, a waterproof jacket, earplugs, your phone charger and adaptor and insect repellent. Here’s a backpacking checklist to help you plan your backpack.

8. Use hostels

Thailand has a great network of hostels and you’ll not only save money over hotels, but also meet more people and get more local recommendations. Hostel staff are also a reliable source of advice and information on everything from avoiding the latest scam to where to get the best noodles, so talk to them.

9. Go with the flow

Thailand is a place to chill. So stay on somewhere if you love it, move on if you don’t, and if you hear about a cool new bar or restaurant, or a party on the beach, go. Unpredictable sometimes, unforgettable always.

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

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. 

Going for a spa in Iceland can feel wonderfully alien. Against a backdrop of barren moonscapes and denuded hills, the waters are so preternaturally blue, so exaggerated and preposterously warm, that a simple dip can feel borderline indecent. Venture from the capital Reykjavik as far as Reyðarfjörður in the extreme east and you’ll also find that the country hides hundreds of out-of-this-world geothermal pools and naturally-heated hot tubs.

But it first pays to know the rules. Because in Iceland, the right spa etiquette is taken deadly seriously. Here are five dos and don’ts to bear in mind.

Don’t forget to wash yourself

It may sound obvious, but unlike the rest of Europe, where most bathers make-do with a quick shower-room rinse, Icelanders have a set, strict routine when going for a dip that must be followed to the letter.

First, read the rules. They’re pinned to every changing room wall and notice-board, as well as being published in English, French, German and Danish, so you really have no excuse not to follow them.

Second, get washing. Scrub your head, armpits, feet and groin with soap beforehand, and – most importantly – do it in your birthday suit, not bathing suit. A quick rinse just won’t do, especially because most geothermal pools use freshwater and far lower levels of chlorine, even at the Blue Lagoon at Reykjanes.

And having just read the rules, you have no excuse not to get naked. You have been warned.

Do get chatting to the locals

Approaching a complete stranger in a bikini may at first seem like a coquettish, brazen thing to do, but it’s OK in Iceland.

In Reykjavík, hot tubs and pools are more like social clubs where people catch up on news and discuss politics: and they’ve done so since the twelfth century when poet, scholar and politician Snorri Sturluson built the first stone hot tub outside Reykholt.

To get the best of the conversations, go to a local’s pool such as Vesturbæjarlaug, a short walk from Reykjavík city centre, or Nauthólsvík, a geothermal saltwater pool by a golden beach.

Around seven o’clock on a weekday morning, the conversation bubbles as much as the thermal waters. There is no social hierarchy, and everyone is treated like an equal.

For something more romantic, take a date to Sundhöll, built in the 1930s, it’s open late and is one of the oldest baths in the capital.

Don’t talk too loudly (or on your phone)

Icelanders don’t like tourists who make too much noise: period. Their dose of social media may well be a get-together in the spa, but they talk quietly, which can sound as soft as whale song.

The reason? Many spas and indoor pools were built in the 1960s and loud noises echo down the corridors of the indoor pools and steam rooms.

“Our bathhouses tend to venerate tradition above anything else,” says spa aficionado Birgir Þorsteinn Jóakimsson, who visits Reykjavik’s Vesturbæjarlaug every day. “Talking loudly is a nasty habit, especially at an Icelandic spa – so you won’t be popular with the locals. It’s not a circus.”

It also pays to be alert, as hawkish pool attendants may ambush you, showing you the door. They’ve been known to throw tourists out for less.

Don’t jump straight in

Those milky-blue waters are ridiculously tempting, but also feverishly hot. Draw the cool air into your lungs and take your time by testing the water temperature first to check your skin’s sensitivity to the geothermal heat.

In Reykjavík at Laugardalur Park, also known as the Valley of the Pools, the water used to hover at a white-hot 45 degrees Celcius, punishing unsuspecting dive-bombers. Such waters have since been cooled due to health and safety regulations, but with most still nudging upwards of 37 degrees, it’s an odd juxtaposition between bathing in hell, while feeling like you’re in heaven.

To maximise enjoyment, remember to swim in an anticlockwise direction. No one can really explain why, but Icelanders swim in circles from right to left, and so should you.

Do take a local’s advice

The most sacred pools are only known by the locals – and with good reason. Places like the old pool at Gamla Laugin at Fludir on the Golden Circle – supposedly the oldest in Iceland – or Seljavallalaug, a snooker-chalk blue outdoor pool secreted up a valley near Skogar, are so sybaritic you wouldn’t want to share them with anyone else either.

“Everyone has their favourite they want to keep,” says Guðrún Bjarnadottir, a spa professional working at the Blue Lagoon. “If you talk to locals – and they like you – you may get lucky. My personal favourite is somewhere in the hills north of Hveragerdi. It’s in a mystical place known as the Smoky Valley, but the exact location and directions – well – that would be telling.”

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

Letting it all hang out has never been so newsworthy. In the past year or so, we have seen an influx of over-the-top pranks at world heritage sites including Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, and the Great Pyramids of Giza. It all culminated last summer when ten backpackers made headlines for baring all at the summit of Borneo’s Mount Kinabalu. Facing a possible prison sentence, their stunt prompted the UK government to issue a code of conduct for travellers.

As an antidote, here’s the naked truth on where to take your clothes off, legally, or just for fun. Spoiler alert: gratuitous nudity ahead!

Reveal it all in a Finnish sauna

In the depths of midwinter, Finns take off their clothes the way most of us put them on: swiftly, routinely, and often first thing in the morning.

In barely-lit, pine-clad rooms, they come at all hours of the day to socialise, catch up on news and even do business in the buff. Then they streak across the snow, before jumping into a hole cut in a frozen lake. It’s a ritual undertaken without any hint of prudish self-consciousness.

Pixabay / CC0

As the inventors of the sauna, boasting one for every household throughout the country, tradition is firmly on the Finn’s side. Each sauna, rich with steam and moisture, has its own rules, and swimsuits are often banned for hygienic reasons. That pocket square you see hanging up on the peg? It’s your towel.

Such awkward moments can be found at Rajaportin in Tampere, the oldest sauna in the country, dating back to 1906, while the popularity of smoke saunas and ice swimming brings nudists to Kakslauttanen, on the road north to the Arctic. Best not be shy: it can squeeze in a hundred people across its three bathhouses. Proof, if needed, that the Finnish sauna retains a life that goes way beyond legend.

Drop your trunks in Germany

If a Berliner asks you to go for a walk in the Tiergarten or Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg, maybe its best to double-check your answer. They’re prime tanning spots – think well-done frankfurters, without the buns.

Germany’s fastidious approach to nudity leaves the mind reeling. The country has a full catalogue of opportunities for naked pursuits, from nude sunbathing on river banks to more than 300 private nudist clubs – known as the FKK, or Free Body Culture – all of which endorse a naturistic approach of sport and outdoor living.

Munich has six official urban nude zones, including two large FKK areas for naked sun-tanners on the banks of the Eisbach creek. In the capital, meanwhile, it’s perfectly legal to get your kit off on all of Berlin’s public bathing beaches, which at times can feel like being an extra in a porn film.

Go for a nude scrub in Istanbul

The Turkish hammam you imagine – the one flush with a gruff, moustachioed attendant mopping down a tiled washroom – still thrives in pockets of Istanbul. But close to the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya in tourist-friendly Sultanahmet, it’s possible – at a price – to experience the splendours of a soapy rubdown in far more palatial surroundings.

Such hedonism goes back to the days of Constantinople. Two Ottoman-era classics to try are Çemberlitaş Hamamı, dating back to 1584, and Cağaloğlu Hamamı, the last to be built by the empire.

Perhaps seeking to go out with a bang, it’s an extravaganza, with embroidered columns, tulip-inlaid stones, and marble ablution fountains, give plenty of distractions from having only a loin cloth covering your dignity.

Split into same-sex steam rooms, they’re both hardly racy affairs, but if Istanbul’s streets leave you a little grimy, that exfoliating, sandpaper-rough hand-mit applied by the masseuse will do just the trick. You’ll come out oily and as stewed as an onion, but primped and preened like a strutting pasha.

Get cheeky at Burning Man in Nevada

Nude hippies have long made pilgrimages to festivals – cue Woodstock and the more hedonistic Glastonbury-goers of the 1970s. But more recently, naked ramblers have gone stark-raving nude in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada to party at Burning Man, the annual weeklong festival of revelry all in the name of self-expression and art.

Dazzled by a white-hot sun and dust storms, nudists come prepared with fashion goggles, disco masks, and unicorn heads, making the whole affair resemble a kind of apocalyptic Mad Max-themed, techno Coachella.

None of which matters to the 70,000 who immerse themselves in nude art rituals, sun salutations, and all manner of conflagration, while anticipation builds for the burning of the giant man-shaped bonfire. This year, festivities take place from 28 August to 5 September, and whether you dress or undress to impress, it’ll always be just the right amount of wrong.

By Marco Sanchez on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Let it all out for art’s sake in Scotland

On an overcast thundercloud grey day in Glasgow, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to take their clothes off. But at All the Young Nudes – a rock ’n’ roll drawing club – clothes-free models pose to a soundtrack of Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols and David Bowie, while students, office workers, bus drivers, grandmothers, sit sketching in concentration, supping beer and wine.

The idea is the brainchild of a former animation graduate at the Glasgow School of Art and it’s since spawned satellite nights in Edinburgh, Dundee, and, late last year, in East London. Life drawing clubs are nothing new, but this one is different: no tuition is offered, a DJ selects the playlist, and each week brings a different theme.

Previous weeks have introduced a trio of ballet dancers, a string quartert, and models posing naked with birds of prey, including a hawk and bald American eagle from the local zoo.

First-timers may be keen to bare all in the name of art, but a word of warning: it’s more popular than you’d at first think. Considering its runaway success, the club’s organisers now offer nude modelling classes to make sure those with a flair for the dramatic know how to pose properly, bits and all, in front of groups as big as a hundred.

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

Whether you’re hurtling along in a rickshaw, eating fantastic curries, kicking back on the backwaters or hiking in the mountains, backpacking India will always be an adventure. You’ll need your wits about you, and preparation is key – here are our top tips to making your journey as smooth as possible. Check out The Rough Guide to India for everything else you need to plan your trip.

1. Eat where the locals eat

Restaurant meals are often dampened down for tourists. If you want an authentic curry, follow the locals and find the busy places; empty restaurants are often quiet for a reason.

2. Swot up on trainspotting

Using the extensive Indian train network is an excellent way to get around this huge country. Trains book up fast and the booking system – as with many processes in India – can be highly convoluted. The train information website The Man in Seat 61 has a comprehensive breakdown of the complex process. If you’re getting a sleeper train, try to book the upper or side-upper berths, for more privacy and security, and give sleeper class a go at least once.

While a/c is more comfortable, the tinted windows mean you won’t see nearly as much scenery, nor will you have such an interesting and diverse mix of fellow passengers.

Image by Helen Abramson

3. Agree a price before you do anything

When taking a rickshaw or taxi (if it has no meter), hiring a guide, staying in a hotel or going on a tour, always check what you’re expected to pay first – and, in many cases, haggle for it. If a restaurant menu has no prices on it, check how much your food will cost before ordering. When buying a product in a shop, check the item for its MRP – Maximum Recommended Price – which should be printed on it in small letters.

4. Purify your water

Tap water in India should be avoided. However, think about how many plastic bottles you’d get through buying mineral water over a fortnight, and then imagine eight million foreign tourists doing the same thing every year. That’s a lot of plastic. A greener option is to purify your own – there’s an increasingly effective range purifying filters which destroy even the tiniest bacteria and viruses.

The most advanced systems, such as the Water-to-Go bottle filters, turn the stuff of murky brown lakes into crystal clear, fresh-tasting water. It’s also worth bearing in mind that in many restaurants in India, reversed osmosis (RO) water is available – it’s free, environmentally friendly and completely safe to drink.

5. Bring your own toilet roll

Indians use their left hand and a jug of water or a hose instead of toilet paper. Aside from in the most upmarket or touristic destinations, you shouldn’t expect toilets to have paper, and the toilet itself may be just a hole in the ground. Although getting used to using the hose is no bad thing, it’s a good idea to carry toilet paper – and hand sanitizer – around with you.

Image by Helen Abramson

6. Be respectful

This is a country with a rich cultural heritage and strong, deep-rooted religious traditions. Your experience of travelling through India’s rich and mysterious landscapes will be much more positive if you remain mindful of local social etiquette.

Women should always cover their shoulders and wear loose fitting clothing that comes below the knee. In Muslim areas, midriffs should be covered.

Eat with your right hand (the left is for toilets), don’t point the soles of your feet at anyone, take your shoes off before entering a temple and avoid public displays of affection.

7. An apple a day won’t keep the doctor away

Fruit and vegetables may be washed in untreated water; eat peeled fruit such as bananas and mangoes, and avoid raw veg.

8. Find the festivals

From huge national holidays to tiny village festivals, there’s always a cultural or religious celebration of some kind going on somewhere in India, often incorporating music, dance and striking costumes. If you can fit a festival into your stay, you won’t regret it.

As Hindus make up 80 percent of the population, most of the festivals are based around Hindu gods and stories, such as colourful Holi Festival, but there are dozens of others too. Try the camel fair in Pushkar, Rajasthan, every November, or the Buddhist Hemis Festival in Ladakh in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Image by Helen Abramson

9. Stay safe

Avoid carrying large amounts of cash on you, and protect your valuables in crowded places such as train stations. Take a mobile phone and get an Indian SIM card so you can make a call in an emergency. Women especially should dress conservatively and never wander alone in the dark or plan to arrive somewhere in the middle of the night. If you feel you’re being hassled, be confident rather than polite, and call loudly for help.

10. Try the street food

Sampling street food is a key part of the fun of a trip to India. Mumbai has an especially appealing range, with cheap treats such as pani puri (crispy deep-fried bread filled with tamarind, chilli and potato), bhel puri (sev, puffed rice, chopped onion, potato and chutney), vada pav (soft roll stuffed with deep-fried potato) and much more. Make sure you can see the food being prepared in front of you and the ingredients look fresh.

11. Take earplugs

Earplugs are a basic essential to ensure a good night’s sleep on trains and buses, or in thinly walled beach huts and noisy hotels.

Image by Helen Abramson

12. Get off the beaten track

Foreign travellers tend to hit roughly the same destinations and routes in India. Branching out from these areas allows visitors to experience a side of this country that hasn’t been affected by the massive tourist industry, and thus gives a more genuine insight into Indian life.

13. Go with the flow

India can be a challenging place to travel. You’ll enjoy it to its fullest if you’re open to new experiences and can accept that strange and unpredictable things will happen every day. Patience is vital, and a sense of humour will go a long way. And if you’re invited to a wedding, accept!

Explore India with the Rough Guide to IndiaCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Colombia meets Jamaica? Not quite, but two competing images loom large over the Caribbean island of Providencia: Bob Marley, adopted saint of the local Raizal population, and Johnny Depp, fictional hero of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise and a symbol of everything ‘pirate’ to the local tourism industry. It’s all a very long way from Bogotá.

This tiny Caribbean outcrop, along with its sister island of San Andrés, is actually much closer to Nicaragua than the coast of Colombia. With a population of around 5000, there are more golf carts and bicycles than cars and everyone knows everyone else.

All this makes Providencia a great getaway from Colombia’s frenetic cities. Here, Stephen Keeling picks a few highlights of visiting this fascinating island.

Crab lovers rejoice

Not surprisingly, fresh seafood dominates menus on Providencia. The local black crab is a major staple, appearing in soups, stews or simply fried in the shell – some twenty percent of the island’s population make their living from the tasty crustacean.

The black crab is actually tinged with orange and lives on land most of the year (hiding in burrows in the hills and feeding at night). Between April and July the crabs descend en masse to the sea during their annual migration to lay eggs (the newly hatched juveniles then make the return journey) – it’s sometimes possible to view this amazing spectacle on foot, but these days the army routinely closes and guards strips of the coast road to protect migrating crabs. In recent years their numbers have declined dramatically thanks to overexploitation and the loss of habitat, but there has been some progress in making crab farming sustainable.

Image by on Cultura de Red Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Reggae Roots

Providencia loves its reggae and reggaeton, with the best place to soak up the island vibe Roland Roots Bar on Manchineel Bay. This Rasta-themed beach bar, with wooden shacks right on the sand, sways to a mellow reggae soundtrack and there are even swings from which to fling yourself into the sea.

Pirates of Providencia

In 1670, pirates led by Henry Morgan essentially occupied Providencia – though the buccaneers had been flushed out by 1689, this period informs much of the island’s romantic view of itself (many islanders claim descent from the pirates).

Get to grips with their legacy on tiny Santa Catalina Island, linked to Providencia by a rickety, wooden pontoon pedestrian bridge. On the other side a boardwalk leads along the shore, between tangled mangroves and a ramshackle village to Morgan’s Cannon (Cañónes), a rusty old artillery piece said to be the place pirates were hanged and ‘protestants burned’ by the Spanish.

On the other side of the hill lies Fort Beach (Playa Fuerte), a small stretch of sand with another old cannon, wishing well, an underwater cave (also named for Morgan), and good snorkelling. It’s one of seemingly thousands of spots in the Caribbean where Morgan supposedly hid treasure – he must have been swimming in gold.

Image by Quimbaya on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Go to church

The Raizal population on Providencia remains proud of its cultural roots, and one of the strongest traditions is attending Baptist church on Sundays (services are usually held in English). Even if you are not religious, it’s worth going along to see the soulful gospel choirs that sing at the main services – a magical experience. Services at the Iglesia Bautista Central (Central Baptist Church) take place at 11am every Sunday.

Scuba, boats and beaches

Providencia is blessed with small but glittering white-sand beaches and the best diving in the region – the island sits atop the third-largest barrier reef in the world.

Submarine highlights include “Manta City”, a congregation of giant southern stingrays (not mantas), and “Tete’s Place”, where schools of snappers, goatfish and parrotfish make you feel as if you’re swimming in a giant aquarium.

image by Luis Alveart on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

If diving isn’t your thing, most hotels can arrange tours around the island via speedboat, including a two-hour visit to Crab Key, just off the east coast. This tiny islet offers superb snorkelling in the spectacularly clear surrounding waters – you’ll see plenty of small but multi-coloured tropical fish, fans and corals here. There’s a bar on the dock selling fresh coconuts and rum, and sometimes shrimp ceviche.

You can also make the short climb to the cocoplum-smothered top of the cay for sensational views of the massive reef, ‘the sea of seven colours’ around it and back over to the mountains of Providencia, rising into the clouds like a languid South Pacific atoll. Otherwise, tranquil Southwest Bay on the main island boasts the best beach, with a small selection of hotels and restaurants.

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

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

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

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

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.

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