Despite its natural beauty and vast array of historical sites, Jordan welcomes only a fraction of the visitors to the Middle East. When many think of Jordan, they picture camels and deserts – which admittedly make up 85 percent of its land mass – but this is also a country of mountains, beaches, castles and churches, with a welcoming population and a rich culture. These are our top things to do in Jordan:


Music: Ya Mo by Dozan (with thanks to worldmusic.net).

Skip back a few millennia and we were all arboreal primates. We’ll never know for sure what those ancestors of ours looked like. But in Tsitsikamma National Park, you can discover the primate within by swinging through the canopy – 30m up.

In fact, whizzing is a better word, for instead of bombing through the forest on the end of a vine, Tarzan-style, you’re strapped into a high-tech harness and sent careering along a steel cable that’s strung between two trees. But you can yodel as much as you want.

Each cable slide – there’s a circuit of eleven – leads to a timber platform high up in a mighty outeniqua forest. Here, as you catch your breath, a guide sorts out your karabiner clips, gives you a few nature notes and gets you ready for the next slide.

The platforms and slides may stir up childhood memories of monkeying around in tree houses, but in fact they’re state of the art. Cleverly engineered using tensile forces, leverage and rubber blocks instead of bolts to keep the trees as pristine as possible, the whole circuit is based on a system designed by ecologists working in the Costa Rican rainforest. They used their cables to collect specimens and data. Trust the adventure-mad South Africans to use theirs just for fun.

The longest and steepest slides are the best: with a good shove, you can hurtle along at up to 50km/h, hyped with excitement. But on the gentler ones, there’s more time to enjoy the scenery: the light and shade playing on the foliage above, the intricate forms of the giant ferns below, the passing birds and staring monkeys. Or you can just soak up the rich, unfamiliar smells – the musty whiff of decaying vegetation mixed with the damp freshness of new growth – and the heart-pounding sensation of exploring a new domain.

A Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour is available via Stormsriver Adventures (www.stormsriver.com).

 

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If the skies are clear on your first day in Cape Town, drop everything and head straight for Table Mountain. It’s an ecological marvel, and a powerful icon for the entire African continent. What’s more, the views from the top are unmissable – as long as the celebrated “tablecloth” of cloud stays away.

For Capetonians, Table Mountain is a backdrop and an anchor, both physically and spiritually. Close to the South African coast, it was one of the beacons that Nelson Mandela and his fellow inmates fixed upon during their incarceration on Robben Island, just offshore.

The mountain’s famous plateau is part of a short upland chain that stretches from Signal Hill, just west of the city centre, to Cape Point, where a lighthouse marks the meeting of the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic. The obvious, and most popular, route to the top is to take the aerial cableway – a sizeable cable car that, thrillingly, gently rotates on the ascent. But if you’d rather work a little harder, you can tackle one of the hiking trails that snake their way up the cliffs.

Visit in the South African spring or summer and the fynbos vegetation, unique to the Cape, will be in full bloom. You’ll see plenty of pretty daisies and heathers in the tussocky wilderness, while proteas, sundews and watsonias add splashes of red, white and pink. Botanists have identified over 1470 plant species on the mountain – there’s more floral diversity here than in the entire United Kingdom. The wildlife scores top marks for entertainment value, too. Stars of the show are the dassies, placid creatures that look a bit like monster guinea pigs and are more than happy to pose for photos.

And then there’s that view. You may only be a thousand metres up, but gaze out over the city to the ocean beyond and you’ll feel on top of the world.

To make the most of the mountain, book a place on one of Hoerikwaggo Trails’ guided hikes (www.hoerikwaggotrails.com).

 

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It’s art, myth and archeology, it’s visually stunning and you can reach back through the millennia and immerse yourself in its marks and contours. South Africa’s rock art represents one of the world’s oldest and most continuous artistic and religious traditions. Found on rock faces all over the country, these ancient paintings are a window into a historic culture and its thoughts and beliefs. In the Cederberg range alone, 250km north of Cape Town, there are some 2500 rock art sites, estimated to be between one and eight thousand years old.

The paintings are the work of the first South Africans, hunter-gatherers known as San or Bushmen, the direct descendants of some of the earliest Homo sapiens who lived in the Western Cape 150,000 years ago. Now almost extinct, their culture clings on tenuously in tiny pockets of Namibia, northern South Africa and Botswana.

If you’re looking to dig deeper, the easy-going Sevilla Trail gives you the opportunity to take in ten rock art sites along a stunning 4km route. The animals that once grazed and preyed in the fynbos (literally “fine bush’’) vegetation of the mountainous Cederberg are among the major subjects of the finely realized rock art paintings, which also include abstract images and monsters as well as depictions of people and therianthropes – half-human, half-animal figures. You’ll see beautifully observed elephants, rhinos, buffaloes, oryx, snakes and birds, accurately portrayed in sinuous outline or solid bodies of colour – often earthy whites, reds and ochres. Frequently quite small, they’re dotted all over rock surfaces, sometimes painted one over the other to create a rich patina.

Archeologists now regard many of the images as metaphors for religious experiences, one of the most important of which is the healing trance dance, still practised by the few surviving Bushman communities. The rock faces can be seen as portals between the human and spiritual world: when we gaze at Bushman rock art we are gazing into the house of the spirits.

You don’t need to book to walk the trail, but you do need a permit, which can be obtained from Traveller’s Rest Farm (www.travellersrest.co.za), which also has accommodation and lays on horse trails.

 

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First, be glad that it rains so much in Scotland. Without the rain the rivers here wouldn’t run – the Livet, the Fiddich, the Spey. Without the rain the glens wouldn’t be green and the barley wouldn’t grow tall and plump.

Be glad it’s damp here in Scotland. Peat needs a few centuries sitting in a bog to come out right. Then a breeze, and a wee bit of sun, to dry it. You burn it, with that delicious reek – the aroma – to dry the malted barley. Earth, wind and fire.

And be glad it’s cold here too. Whisky was being made in these hills for centuries before refrigeration. Cool water to condense the spirit. After all, if you’re going to leave liquid sitting around in wooden barrels for ten or more years, you don’t want it too warm. The evaporation – “the angels’ share” – is bad enough. Still, it makes the idea of “taking the air” in Speyside rather more appealing.

And if it weren’t cold and wet and damp, you wouldn’t appreciate being beside that roaring fire and feeling the taste for something to warm the cockles. Here’s a heavy glass for that dram, that measure. How much? More than a splash, not quite a full pour. Look at the colour of it: old gold. Taste it with your nose first; a whisky expert is called a “noser” rather than a “taster”. Single malts have all sorts of smells and subtleties and flavours: grass, biscuits, vanilla, some sweet dried fruit, a bit of peat smoke. Drinking it is just the final act.

Aye, with a wee splash of water. The spirit overpowers your tastebuds otherwise. A drop, to soften it, unlock the flavours. Not sacrilege – the secret. Water. Is it still raining? Let me pour you another.

Speyside’s Malt Whisky Trail (www.maltwhiskytrail.com) points you in the direction of seven working distilleries offering guided tours.

 

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Camping in the UK can be a gruelling affair, what with the high chance of rain and often low temperatures – not to mention the rocket science-like fiasco of constructing your nylon home for the night. So, we’ve teamed up with Forest Holidays to offer you a night off (actually, four nights off) to enjoy the freedoms of the forest without the effort.

From bike rides and pony trekking in Yorkshire to zip wires and walking trails in Cornwall, there’s so much to see and do in the UK’s beautiful countryside. If you want to win a four-night stay in a luxury forest cabin – complete with hot tub and panoramic forest view – at any one of the eight spectacular Forest Holidays sites in England and Scotland, follow the instructions below.

How to enter

For your chance to win, all you have to do is log in or sign up to the Rough Guides Community and write your answer to the question, “What is your worst camping disaster?”, posted here, in no more than 80 words.

The prize is for a four-night mid-week stay (Monday to Friday) for up to four people at any Forest Holidays location in the UK. The prize does not include travel costs, meals, spending money or any incidental expenses and it must be taken by 31 October 2014, excluding all school holidays and bank holidays (see Terms & Conditions for specific dates). All dates and locations are subject to availability. The winner will be chosen at random and will be notified by email by 31 December 2013. See a full list of Terms & Conditions here.

Special offer for Rough Guides readers: Save 10% on cabins at Forest Holidays for holidays in 2014. Simply quote ROUGH13 when booking at www.forestholidays.co.uk (0845 130 8223). Offer expires 31 December 2013. Forest Holidays’ timber and glass cabins come in a variety of sizes suitable for families, couples and groups of friends (from one to four bedrooms).

The country’s traditional attractions – Warsaw’s lively old town and Kraków’s gorgeous squares – are worthwhile stops, but it’s easy to forget that there is another Poland, a genuine wilderness of high (and often snowbound) peaks, populated by lynx and bears. The Tatras Mountains are as beautiful as any national park in Europe, and their numerous trails – from vertiginous ridge-walks to forested rambles – are enormously popular with the locals, who troop here in their thousands in summer. The hamlet of Kuźnice, just south of the resort of Zakopane, has a cable car that climbs to almost 2000m above sea level (it feels a lot higher); from here, the very heart of the Tatras, marked trails for walkers of all abilities pick their way among the pinnacles.

Zakopane is around 3hr by train or bus from Kraków.

 

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The rays of the morning sun begin to evaporate the mist that shrouds the depths of Peru’s Colca Canyon. You’ve come out in the early hours to see the condor, or Andean vulture, in action, and as the mist dissipates, you can see hundreds of others have done the same. Many cluster at the mirador or Cruz del Condor. Others perch above pre-Inca terraces embedded into walls twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Audacious visitors clamber to the rocks below to see the condor, but a short hike along the rim of the canyon allows for a viewpoint that is less precarious and just as private.

Wrapped up against the cold, you whisper excitedly and wait for the show to begin. Suddenly, a condor rises on the morning thermals, soaring like an acrobat – so close you think you could reach out and touch its giant charcoal wings. It scours the surroundings, swooping lower and then higher, then lower again, in a roller-coaster pursuit of food. Soon it is joined by another bird, and another, in a graceful airborne ballet.

Eventually, the birds abandon the audience in their hunt for sustenance, and the mirador becomes home to a less elusive species. Peruvian women, brightly dressed in multilayered skirts, squat on their haunches, hawking food, drinks and souvenirs – everything from woolly Andean hats to purses embroidered with the condor.

The panpipe sounds of “El Condor Pasa” are played so often in Peru that they become the theme tune for many trips. Simon and Garfunkel might have made the song famous with their cover version, but it’s the eponymous bird that deserves a place in your Peruvian holiday.

Most Colca Canyon trips leave from Arequipa, approximately 5hr away.

 

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

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

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

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

 

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With 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.

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