Spain’s massive size means that it’s thankfully not as hard as you might expect to wander off the well-beaten tourist track. Whether it’s quiet coves, tucked away old villages or eerie landscapes you’re after, here are seven places that you’ve probably never heard of but really should visit in Spain.

1. Las Alpujarras, Andalucía

South of Granada, the hills and valleys of Las Alpujarras provide some of the country’s lushest scenery. This isn’t an area for novice drivers – hairpin bend after hairpin bend lead up to many of the region’s lovely white-washed villages – but it’s worth the effort to enjoy the serenity of the countryside.

In the settlements here you can really get a sense of a truly local way of life – one that revolves around shady central plazas, welcome siestas from the midday sun and sherry in the local bar after dark.

2. Beget, Girona

Beget is tucked so deeply into a valley that you won’t see it before you’re almost in it. This tiny village in northern Catalunya is definitely worth stumbling over, however – little has changed here for centuries, creating a quiet charm that’s hard to beat.

Explore the narrow cobbled streets to find old stone houses and pretty little bridges that cross the river. For dinner, sit down to a plate of seasonal Catalan food at one of the family-run restaurants.

The centrepiece of the village is the stately, beautiful twelfth-century church, which boasts a carved wooden Christ figure dressed in a tunic, with arms outstretched.

Image by azama8 on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

3. El Burgo de Osma, Soria

The Río Duero cuts across central Castilla and some of its loveliest scenery can be found in and around the graceful old town of El Burgo de Osma.

Though its buildings pay homage to the fact that this was once a very grand place – it is home to both a cathedral and a university – El Burgo today is quaint and gorgeous, with little in the way of attractions, but a joy to experience nonetheless.

The town is particularly lovely on summer nights, when locals congregate on the main square to use it as a social club, playground and exercise yard. El Burgo also makes a great base from which to explore the surrounding area, which boasts both a dramatic canyon park and a mighty fortress.

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

4. Zahara de la Sierra, Andalucía

The beautiful southern region of Andalucía is particularly known for its beautiful white towns, and one of the best examples of which can be found at Zahara de la Sierra, reached via a very scenic drive through the countryside from the lovely old town of Ronda.

An obvious landmark for miles around, it is the castle that you notice first, sitting dramatically on top of a stark rocky outcrop; below which huddle bright white houses (with their equally picturesque red-tiled roofs).

5. Cadaqués, Girona

It’s easy to shun the idea of the Costa Brava, with its rather old-fashioned image of sun-and-sea holidays, but the region is home to some very pretty beaches, and with a bit of knowledge it’s not too hard to find more interesting towns and quieter sands.

The most pleasant place to stay on the northern Costa Brava is undoubtedly the picturesque seaside town of Cadaqués, its narrow, hilly streets filled with bougainvillea-covered houses and with craggy headlands on either side of its still-working fishing port.

The beaches here are small and pebbly, but there’s plenty else to the town to keep you occupied, not least its art galleries and studios – Dalí settling nearby after World War II saw the town attract a rather bohemian artistic community – and smart restaurants.

6. Las Médulas, Castille y León

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the other-worldly landscape of Las Médulas had been ravaged over hundreds – even thousands – of years by the weather, but you’d be wrong. The strange, jagged red rocks here are the result of Roman strip-mining, when five tonnes of gold were taken from the hillsides via canals constructed for the purpose.

Looking more like Arizona than northern Spain, this eerie landscape of red-rock needles and caves is best viewed from the Mirador de Orellán, which offers a spectacular panorama over the area; undoubtedly the best way to experience it is on foot, via the Las Valiñas trail from pretty Las Médulas village.

7. The Costa da Morte, Galicia

Don’t be put off by its name – the “Coast of Death” – this relatively undeveloped region is well worth a visit. Though at times it has a rather desolate beauty, and though it can be as wet and windy as the shipwrecks that litter its seabed suggest, the quiet, beautiful coves, snug fishing villages and mountain slopes make this costa surprisingly enchanting.

This isn’t the place to go for resort facilities – and all the better for it; instead, head for the charming little seaside towns like Malpica de Bergantiños and Laxe, the latter of which offers some of the area’s safest swimming.

For really wonderful scenery, head to Ezaro; here, the mineral-rich rocks of the escarpments are multi-coloured, and appear to glisten underneath countless little waterfalls.

Image by Asier Ríos Molina on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Explore more of Spain with The Rough Guide to SpainCompare 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.

Running along the Great Wall of China, jogging across the African savannah and racing through the Amazon are some of the exhilarating marathon experiences now on offer around the globe. From coastal routes in Jamaica and California to challenging courses in the blazing Sahara and freezing Polar Circle, a growing number of endurance events provide a dramatic change of scene and pace.

1. Marathon des Sables, 8–18 April 2016, Morocco

Not for the fainthearted, the legendary Marathon des Sables is one of the world’s toughest long-distance races. Laden with backpacks, competitors brave the sweltering Moroccan Sahara during a six-day ultra-marathon that covers 257km of golden dunes and stony plateaus. Over 13,000 runners have taken part in this extreme desert event since 1986 and its popularity endures today, with around 1200 men and women due at the starting line in April 2016.

Image by tent86 on Flickr (CC 2.0)

2. Big Sur International Marathon, 24 April 2016, USA

An inspiration to writers Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac, California’s Big Sur region really delivers on scenery. Now in its 31st year, the area’s sell-out marathon follows a spectacular route along the Pacific coastline between Big Sur Station and Carmel. Starting beneath the shade of Giant Redwoods, competitors race over bridges and through rolling hills. The sparkling ocean and craggy Santa Lucia Mountains are a beautifully distracting backdrop.

3. Great Wall Marathon, 21 May 2016, China

For those who like sightseeing at speed, the Great Wall Marathon is a memorable way to see one of China’s most famous landmarks. Featuring vertiginous climbs up sections of the wall, plus trails through fields and villages, it’s a demanding, mountainous course. But although the steep gradient can reduce runners to clambering up the Great Wall’s ancient steps, the views are magnificent and villagers offer encouragement along the route.

4. Ultra Trail Marathon, 22 May 2016, England

London might be the UK’s best-known marathon, but the Lake District’s Ultra Trail Marathon is arguably its most scenic. Beginning on the shores of vast Derwentwater lake in Keswick, the challenging 50km course meanders through rugged fells and peaceful valleys. Undulating, mountainous terrain means this isn’t the race for marathon PBs, but this stamina-testing event offers a close encounter with one of England’s most wild and beautiful regions.

5. Himalayan Kingdom Marathon, 29 May 2016, Bhutan

Wedged between India and Tibet, remote Bhutan is home to sacred monasteries, Himalayan peaks and forested valleys. Competitors in the annual Himalayan Kingdom Marathon cross bridges decked in colourful Buddhist prayer flags, and race through paddy fields and farms: all at high altitude. With the course passing some of the Paro Valley’s greatest sights, including the cliff-hugging Taktsang Monastery, there’s plenty to exercise runners’ eyes and legs.

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

6. Big Five Marathon, 25 June 2016, South Africa

Billed as ‘the wildest of them all’, South Africa’s Big Five Marathon offers entrants the chance to spot antelopes, giraffes and elephants as they race through the dry savannah landscape. Sandy trails and dirt tracks weave past lakes, grazing wildlife and rocky hills. Part of the course even crosses into lion country, where big cat sightings might persuade some runners to speed up.

7. Australian Outback Marathon, 30 July 2016, Australia

Established by experienced runner Mari-Mar Walton in 2010, the Outback Marathon follows private, red-earth trails through the Australian bush, past the looming sandstone monolith of Uluru. Camels and kangaroos gaze on as hundreds of athletes cover a relatively flat loop, experiencing the striking Northern Territory wilderness at an accelerated pace.

Image by Joanna Penn on Flickr (CC 2.0)

8. Polar Circle Marathon, 29–30 October 2016, Greenland

Kitted out in hats, gloves and windproof sports gear, hardy participants in Greenland’s small-scale Polar Circle Marathon take on sub-zero temperatures and icy surfaces as they run through shimmering Arctic tundra. Bright blue skies and snow-covered trails make for an awe-inspiring marathon-scape, where runners might spot arctic foxes and musk oxen in their natural habitat.

9. Jungle Marathon, 6–15 October 2016, Brazil

When a traditional road marathon no longer cuts it in the adrenaline stakes, Brazil’s gruelling Jungle Marathon awaits. The easiest option in this eco-race through rainforest, swamps and piranha-infested rivers is to choose the one-day marathon: endurance-distance junkies can go all out with a six-stage, 254km struggle through the Amazon. Competitors catch riverboats to base camp in the Tapajós National Forest and sleep in hammocks strung between trees.

10. Reggae Marathon, 3 December 2016, Jamaica

From its ‘Pasta Party’ to a policy of blaring reggae music every mile of the race, this marathon in Negril, Jamaica is a fun-loving affair. Entrants from more around the world gather at the starting point in dawn darkness, setting off along the white-sand coastline by torchlight. Steel bands and cheering onlookers create a party atmosphere throughout the flat, looped route and once runners cross the beachside finish line, they can take a celebratory dip in the Caribbean Sea.

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

The world is flat. Or so the thinking went, until someone actually went off to circumnavigate it. You may not make such a colossal discovery during your own global journey, but what awaits you “out there” is something only you can find: your very own adventure. Who knows, you may just find a best friend, even the love of your life, along the way.

But before you make your plan to travel around the world, you might need a little advice. Here’s where the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World comes in, with tips on everything from visas and vaccinations to budgeting and packing.

Here, author Doug Lansky answers some of the most common burning questions.

1. I’ve just got three months. Is that too short to travel around the world?

Well, since the actual flight time to circumnavigate the planet is about 40 hours, no it’s not, but it is too short to try to see most of it. As long as you don’t attempt to visit too many destinations, you’re fine. In fact, you’ll likely have a far more enriching trip than someone who travels for twice as long but tries to see four times as much.

2. I’ve got £4000 ($6160) saved up. Will that get me around the world?

No problem. You can find great deals on round-the-world tickets for about a third of that price, or even hitchhike on yachts for free. The more important question is what kind of trip do you want to take and how long do you want it to last? It’s important to figure out a daily budget that fits your comfort level, and to learn which countries offer the best value.

3. I hear a lot about “attractions”, “must-sees” and “wonders”. Is it tourist-bureau hype or is there something to it?

A bit of both. When the hype lasts long enough, it seems to become legend, or even fact. The classic is the “Wonders of the World” lists. Truth is there’s no such thing as a “must-see” and you’ll have a far more enriching trip if you personalize your journey and don’t construct it around seeing the major attractions.

4. How do you know where to sleep each night, what to see during the day, and how to get around?

Carry a guidebook – or a digital version of one. It will cover all the sights in each town, with a short review of the best affordable accommodation, often accompanied by a helpful map (although getting a bit lost now and then is a healthy way to travel). In peak season, you may want to book accommodation a day or two ahead of time.

5. I want to make my journey alone, but I’m worried about travelling solo…

There are hundreds of thousands of travellers out there right now making solo journeys and most of them had just as many concerns as you do. Loneliness can be a problem, particularly at the beginning of a trip and during some meals, but you’ll find your stride and start meeting other travellers before long. Check out our list of great solo travel destinations for inspiration, and learn about the benefits of hitting the road alone.

6. C’mon, do I really need travel insurance?

Only if you get really sick. Or injured. Or sued for some driving accident. In short, yes.

But unless you get insurance that fits your travel plans, it won’t do much good. Which means you shouldn’t necessarily sign up for that convenient “click here for insurance” button when you buy your plane ticket online. Insurance companies rarely cover the exact same things, so you dig a little to find out if your activities and destinations are included.

7. Is taking time off going to ruin my career?

It might delay that promotion, but there’s a better chance it will improve your career prospects. Most prospective employers will find your journey an interesting topic of conversation, just make sure you’ve worked out a few life-lessons from your trip and how they might apply to the job at hand.

If you’re particularly concerned, you might see if you can plan some work-related education into your trip – such as learning a language, taking a writing course or attending cooking school. That also shows prospective employers you were cerebrally engaged during your trip and viewed it as a continuation of your education.

8. I’ve got a smartphone. How do I use it while traveling without it costing me a small fortune?

You’re going to have to make some adjustments to your mobile usage. Exactly what depends on how long you’re staying in one spot and what you’re willing to spend for the convenience of constant connectivity. If you’re spending a couple of weeks or more in one place, it can be worth your while to pick up a local SIM card (or a cheap phone with one if your SIM is locked in). Otherwise, you’ll probably want to take a mini digital detox and shut off data roaming until you find a wi-fi hotspot.

9. Is there one thing I’m likely going to forget?

Earplugs. Hostels and cheap hotels are often located next to busy streets and nightclubs. Some buses and trains have minimal ventilation and you’ll need to keep the windows open, which lets in plenty of air but more decibels than you’d care for. And don’t forget about the snoring roommate – there’s typically one assigned to every dormitory room.

10. I have to ask… What about travellers’ diarrhoea? What should I expect?

You should expect to get it. But if you get it checked out quickly (simple microscope analysis) you can typically get some meds at any clinic and you should be feeling fine within an hour or two. Don’t “ride it out” – total waste of a couple of days. Surprisingly, more travellers get the shits when eating from buffets (yes, even in nice hotel restaurants) than simple, cheap restaurants because so many people work with the food and all it takes is one set of unwashed hands.

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

Planning your first trip around the world can be daunting. There’s an awful lot to discover out there, from retina-burning white beaches tapering off into gin-clear waters to mountain ranges hiding echo-bending canyons and fascinating wildlife.

To celebrate publication of the new edition of the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World, packed with tips and insights for your first big trip, here are 20 ideas to kick-start your inspiration.

Whether you’re dreaming of kicking back on a white-sand beach, partying until dawn or leaving the tourist trail behind, read on…

1. Participate in a festival

There’s a world of opportunities to celebrate out there. Get covered in coloured dye at Holi, hurl oranges in Italy, take part in Spain’s biggest food fight or don a costume and join a Brazilian samba school.

2. Learn a language

Private and group lessons are a bargain in many countries, and are a great way to gain a greater understanding of your destination. Think about learning Spanish in South America or even try to break the ice with a few words of Mongolian.

3. Be awed by nature

Whether you want to tick the seven wonders of the world of your bucket list or get off the beaten track, there are some stupendous sights to discover. The unfathomably stunning Grand Canyon, for instance, is even still deepening at the rate of 15m per million years.

4. Take a cookery course

Even if you just learn to make one great dish, your friends and relatives will be grateful for years. You could master Indian cooking in Kerala or take a popular Thai cookery course in Bangkok.

5. Shop at a local market

Practice your language skills, meet locals and get a good price all at the same time by exploring local markets. You could hit the bazaars of Fez and Marrakesh in Morocco, where you’ll find more than 10,000 fascinating alleys to explore, or join the crowds at Belgium’s oldest Christmas market.

6. Take a literary journey

Connecting the sites from your favourite foreign book or following in the footsteps of an author is a great way to see another side of a country. Get started with our 10 great literary journeys or try one of these 20 breaks for bookworms.

7. Find your own dream beach

There’s nothing like finding a hammock with your name on it and staying still until you’ve recharged your wanderlust. Thailand doesn’t have a monopoly on Southeast Asia’s great beaches, but many travellers simply can’t seem to return home without an obligatory white-sand sizzle on one of its palm-tufted strands.

8. Attend a sporting event

Don the local team’s colours and make a few new friends as you attend a match or game, be that rugby in New Zealand, cricket in India or ice hockey in Canada.

9. Try the street food

Street food meals may be the most memorable of your entire trip. We’ve picked 20 of the best street foods around the world to whet your appetite.

10. Climb a mountain

Start slow by taking on a classic trekking route or take a mountaineering course and scale a more intimidating peak. Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro is a popular first challenge: the storybook mountain silhouette you first learn to draw in primary school, it’s typically hiked in five or six days.

11. Sample the local firewater

Leave the backpacker bar behind at least once to try something new. It could be an unusual beer in the Czech Republic, a daiquiri in Havana or gintonic in Barcelona. You could even making learning about the local drinking culture the focus of part of your trip on one of these 20 boozy breaks.

12. Try out a new sport

This is the time to give a sport a go that you’ve always been curious about – or even one you’ve never heard of. Try these extreme sports and daredevil experiences for ideas.

13. Spend a few days in the jungle

Whether it’s in Costa Rica, Peru or Indonesia, you’ll learn a lot by spending at least a few days in the jungle. Just be sure to go with a guide who can both tell you about the indigenous animals and plants – and help you find your way back.

14. Sleep somewhere unusual

A night suspended 300m high on a cliff face sound a little nerve-wracking? Don’t worry, there’s lots more unusual accommodation out there, from magical treehouses to desert campsites.

15. See a performance

Tickets for plays and concerts might be pricy, but the experience is one you’ll never forget. Even at Australia’s famous Sydney Opera House, seats are readily available for many performances.

16. Get to grips with ancient history

From Bagan to Tikal, the opportunities to get lost in your own historical adventure are endless. No round-the-world trip would be complete without spending some time discovering an ancient civilisation or lost city.

17. Marvel at some of the world’s finest architecture

Architectural wonders abound, although few match the splendour of Agra’s Taj Mahal in India. Built in 1632–1653 by Emperor Shah Jahan in loving memory of his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal,
the Taj is an architectural marvel that has been crafted down to the most minute detail.

18. Go on a great journey

Embark on an epic road-trip in the USA or Europe, spend a week on the Trans-Mongolian Railway or embrace the concept of slow travel with a gentle boat journey among Kerala’s backwaters.

19. Book a safari

But make sure you also get out of the minivan and view the wildlife on foot, or even from a canoe. The Maasai Mara in Kenya is one of the most fantastic destinations for wildlife-spotting, stretching for 3000 square kilometres and home to elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes among numerous other photogenic species.

20. Spend some time in the world’s great museums

The Louvre could eat most sports stadiums for breakfast and still have plenty of room left over, London’s British Museum houses an astonishing 70,000 exhibits, and New York’s Met is home to a whopping 2 million artworks.

Plan more of your first trip around the world with the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World.

After a road trip through Uruguay, Greg Dickinson discovers the joys of self-drive.

Alright, hands up. Fuel is pricey, driving abroad is stressful and travelling long distances by car is damaging to the environment. You may as well just do what you always do; book up some flights, buses and trains and be done with it.

But before you do that, remember that a road trip can be a seriously fun way of travelling, offering that rarest of commodities: total independence. What’s more, it doesn’t necessarily need to break the bank, and for eco-conscious travellers, there are ways of mitigating your carbon footprint while on the road.

It’s time to make a mixtape, don some leather driving gloves and pop open the boot, people. Here are six reasons you should choose a road trip for your next big adventure.

Pixabay / CC0

You can be completely spontaneous

Wonder what’s down that winding dirt track? Go check it out. Want to make an impromptu detour to the beach for a mid-afternoon swim? Why the hell not. Fancy blasting out a thousand miles in one day? Well… maybe that’s not such a great idea, but at least you could if you really wanted to.

Unlike relying on public transport, on a road trip you have the luxury of being able to be as spontaneous as you like – giving you the freedom to travel from A to whichever letter you damn please.

Pixabay / CC0

It could be cheaper than the alternatives

Car rental isn’t cheap, but there are a few hacks to make it that bit more affordable. The first is to go on a road trip soon. Like, now. Fuel prices have recently tumbled across the globe, so wherever you go you’re likely to feel the benefits when travelling long distances.

Another easy trick is to run a trolley around a supermarket at the beginning of the trip and stock up on food and drink – then use your car boot (trunk) as a larder for the duration of the trip, saving on the expense of eating out all the time.

And one final thing to remember: the more friends you pile in the car, the more ways you’ll be splitting the cost of everything.

Pixabay / CC0

You can travel at your own pace

While travelling by public transport ties you to the timetables of bus, flight and rail companies, with your own set of wheels, you can set the pace.

This means no more waking up at 7am to catch a coach with carpets on the ceiling (why do they do that?). No more eye-watering waits for the next loo break. No more back-breaking overnight journeys. With your own vehicle you can devise a travel schedule that suits you, and after years of travelling with public transport that can be something quite liberating.

Pixabay / CC0

You can get properly off-the-beaten-track

Any seasoned traveller will know it’s hard to get properly off-the-beaten-track while using public transport. But with a car, anywhere is in reach.

By keeping away from the well-trodden traveller routes or tourist trails, you will have the rare opportunity to see a more authentic side of a country. From remote villages to one-horse towns, it’s these unique, undiscovered places you’re going to want to write home about. Although you might struggle to find somewhere to buy a postcard…

Listening to foreign radio is brilliant

Need we say more? Flick on the radio, crank up the volume and embrace whatever the airwaves are pumping out.

Pixabay / CC0

It doesn’t have to be bad for the environment

Now, travelling by car isn’t traditionally seen as a “green” mode of transport, but there are some ways of minimizing your road trip’s negative impact on the environment.

One option is to choose an electric or hybrid car, rather than a petrol or diesel motor. These eco-friendly cars will normally come at a higher price, but the planet will be eternally grateful.

Another consideration is to avoid flying at all. If you plan a road trip that starts and ends at your front door, you’ll be sparing the atmosphere from the astronomical amount of jet fuel that is emitted when flying long haul.

And one final option, if you’re this way inclined, is to load up with camping gear and go off-grid for the duration of the road trip – using the stars as your entertainment and a running stream as your shower (and, ahem, a bush as your bathroom).

Greg travelled with carrentals.co.uk, who compare all major international brands including Europcar, Hertz, Avis, Thrfity, Sixt and Alamo. Featured image by Pixabay / CC0. 

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”.

When you receive your Valentine’s bouquet this year, will you wonder where it came from? Probably not, but it’s possible your flowers are better travelled than you. Sitting just below the horn of Africa, Kenya is the largest exporter of flowers to the European Union, meaning your pretty petals may have crossed equators and oceans to arrive at your door. Kiki Deere visited an independent flower farm in Kenya to find out what it’s like to be an African rose.

A young woman gingerly places a dozen white roses in yellow plastic buckets. Behind her, a man walks the rose beds, painstakingly removing dead heads from each plant. The flowers’ large heads have opened beautifully, emanating a strong fruity smell that fills the greenhouse. I am in Nanyuki, a small market town 195km north of Nairobi.

by Kiki Deere

With ten hours of sunshine a day and 800mm of annual rainfall, the market town of Nanyuki has the perfect conditions for growing flowers. Thanks to the area’s cool climate – Nanyuki is right on the equator at 1900m above sea level – it has become a magnet for expats after an alternative base to the country’s chaotic capital.

Large European-style country homes are dotted throughout the verdant countryside surrounding the town and a smattering of restaurants have opened to cater for the growing expat community. A busy matatu platform serves as the town’s hub, where Kenyans travelling north and south gather among a gaggle of hawkers, and life goes on uninterrupted, without much of the country’s tourist trade passing through at all.

A landscape just like an English garden

Sprinkled around Nanyuki are dozens of flower farms, vital to the livelihood of many living in the area. I am at Tambuzi, a flower farm south of the town where, unlike the mass-produced varieties, the roses here are big-headed and full of scent.

Scent causes flowers to age more quickly, explains owner Tim Hobbs, so most producers grow non-scented roses so they’ll have a longer lifespan. Tambuzi aims to grow “real” flowers with strong scent and a distinct shape, with a “just-picked-them-from-your-garden” look.

by Kiki Deere

British expats Tim and Maggie Hobbs bought the 64-hectare farm in 1996 and developed it into the country’s only supplier of traditional garden scented roses.

Sitting on the patio overlooking the farm, cup of tea in hand, I look around and feel I could be in the heart of the British countryside: a leafy garden stretches out in front of me, with a calm river meandering among the trees.

Rose snobs

Rose breeding and production is a complex business: “it’s like horse breeding,” says Tim. “Looks, scents, shapes and disease resistance must all be taken into consideration.”

We stop occasionally to smell the roses. Each has a different scent: citrus, vanilla, honey, fruits. A bright pink rose, a Greffe de Vie, smells of grapefruit.

“Our knowledge of roses is quickly developing. Consumers are becoming more sophisticated, ‘rose snobs’ effectively, just as over the years we have become wine snobs, knowing our Malbecs from our Cabernets,” Maggie believes.

by Kiki Deere

From the greenhouses we move on to the grading shed, where employees carefully package the roses before placing them in the cold store. They’re stored here before being transported to Nairobi in refrigerated trucks, then it’s on to their final destination from there, usually by air.

Fair flowers

As I leave the farm, driving along a dirt track towards the main road that leads into Nanyuki, I see men and women walking home from work. Around 80% of the staff at Tambuzi come from within a two-mile radius of the farm, with most walking to work from their own homes. Consequently, money is reinvested locally, directly benefitting the community and local economy, making their flowers a fair trade.

For dinner, I head to Nanyuki’s best restaurant: Soames, where vases brimming with colourful roses decorate the tables, a gentle reminder that Nanyuki’s flower industry is flourishing more than ever.

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It’s not just height that makes a mountain mean. Different routes can make one side of a mountain a cinch and the other side nearly impossible. The weather can turn a technically easy climb into a deadly expedition.

But whatever the weather, many aspire to tackle the world’s hardest mountains to climb. Here’s our ranking of the 11 trickiest ascents. Glorious and gruelling, gorgeous and grim – these peaks are as dangerous as they are awe-inspiring.

11. Mont Blanc, Italy and France

Elevation: 4808m
Average time to summit: 2 days

It may not be that tall compared to peaks in the Himalayas, and typical routes aren’t that technically challenging. Plus, its position on the border of Italy and France makes it all the more convenient. What better way to follow up your Eiffel Tower selfie than with a snap of you atop Europe’s highest peak?

This sort of heady logic brings many tourists to Mont Blanc every year, and maybe that’s why Mont Blanc has killed more people than any other mountain. Some 8000 have perished on this scenic European climb, most of them novices. Be responsible and be prepared if you’re planning to climb Mont Blanc, its power shouldn’t be taken lightly.

10. Vinson Massif, Antarctica

Elevation: 4892m
Average time to summit: 7–21 days

Fabled Vinson was first glimpsed by human eyes in 1958. Since then, only some 1400 have reached the summit. Weather poses the greatest threat here: it has some of the coldest temperatures on the planet and winds that can easily surpass 80 kilometres per hour.

The simple fact that it could takes weeks to get to a proper hospital in an emergency makes this a remarkably dangerous excursion. Furthermore, getting to Antarctica is going to cost you – a lot. Be prepared to dish out between $34,000–US $82,000 for your trip.

Vinson-036 by Olof Sundström & Martin Letzter on Flickr (license)

9. Matterhorn, Switzerland

Elevation: 4478m
Average time to summit: 5 days

An icon of the Alps, the pyramidal peak of the Matterhorn is successfully ascended by hundreds of climbers every year. However, this is no reason to assume it an easy climb.

The mountain has claimed more than 500 lives since 1865, and still takes a few more each year. Falling rocks have always posed a threat, but the crowds scrambling towards the peak every day during the Swiss summer have created new challenges for climbers to conquer, and new reasons to take on the more demanding conditions of winter.

8. Cerro Torre, Argentina and Chile

Location:Elevation: 3128m
Average time to summit: 4–7 days

Cerro Torre has long captivated the hopes and hearts of climbers, a jagged spire jutting out of the Patagonian Ice Field’s mountains.

Notoriously sheer with a peak guarded by a hazardous layer of rime ice formed by battering winds, it does not offer itself up easily. Climbers must be prepared to tunnel through the ice and deal with vertical and even overhanging sections.

7. The Eiger, Switzerland

Elevation: 3970m
Average time to summit: 2–3 days

The difficulty of the Eiger’s north face has earned it a disturbing nickname: Murder Wall. Requiring an technical skill and ice axe finesse, the sharp overhang, 1800m face and ever-increasing threat of falling ice and rock (a result of global warming) has killed at least 64 climbers trying to follow up the first successful ascent in 1938.

Pixabay / CC0

6. Denali, Alaska, USA

Elevation: 6190m
Average time to summit: 21 days

The altitude, awful weather, relative isolation and punishing temperatures all pose a serious threat to those who attempt to summit North America’s tallest mountain, previously known as Mount McKinley. Further, its high degree of latitude means that atmosphere and oxygen are spread thin.

Despite the having only a 50% success rate, Denali never fails to tempt climbers to ascend. Perhaps the words of one of the first climbers to summit have something to do with the far-flung Alaskan allure: “The view from the top of Mount McKinley is like looking out the windows of Heaven”.

5. Mount Everest, Nepal and Tibet

Elevation: 8848m
Average time to summit: 54 days

Surprised to see the world’s tallest mountain in the middle of our list? Make no mistake, Everest is still a difficult climb. Weather and altitudes can still be deadly, and avalanches have claimed dozens of lives in recent years.

But its glory has faded somewhat with the mountain’s commercialisation: while once it was a feat not many travellers could claim to have achieved, today’s services enable climbers hire local porters to lug their packs, employ chefs to prepare food, and even have a personal medic in case of injury to follow you as far as Base Camp.

However, the crowds that Everest attracts today have become an unfortunate danger in itself. If you do invest in a climb during the more accessible peak season, prepare to join a traffic-jam like queue of hundreds of climbers waiting their turn to summit.

4. Baintha Brakk, Pakistan

Elevation: 7285m
Average time to summit: undetermined

Commonly called “The Ogre”, towering Baintha Brakk has only been summited three times. Immense in scale, intricate in shape and harrowing in incline, this mountain is both the blight and desire of mountaineering’s most hardcore enthusiasts. From the start, any bold attempt at this mountain is a veritable struggle for survival.

Image by junaidrao on Flickr (license)

3. Kangchenjunga, India and Nepal

Elevation: 8586m
Average time to summit: 40–60 days

While climbing death rates are generally decreasing, Kangchenjunga stands as an unfortunate exception to the rule, taking more lives as time goes on. It seems fitting that the mountain is regarded as the home of a rakshasa (or man-eating demon). Only 187 have ever reached the top, though out of respect for the mountain’s immense religious significance among the region’s Buddhists, climbers have always stopped short of the summit.

PixabayCC0

2. K2, China and Pakistan

Elevation: 8611m
Average time to summit: 60 days

Though plenty of peaks in the Himalaya could contest for second on our list, K2’s technical difficulty is legendary. It’s also the second tallest mountain in the world.

In an infamous section called the “Bottleneck”, climbers traverse a towering overhang of precarious glacial ice and massive, sometimes unstable, seracs. It’s the fastest route to the top, minimizing time climbing above K2’s “death zone”: the 8000m altitude above which human life can only briefly be sustained. But too often these seracs come tumbling down, taking climbers to plummet with them.

gabe and K2 on Flickr by Maria Ly (license)

1. Annapurna, Nepal

Elevation: 8091m
Average time to summit: 40–50 days

By no means should a mountain’s height ever be confused with its technical difficulty. Annapurna, the tenth highest peak in the world, is deadly proof. With a near 40% summit fatality rate, a mountaineer is more likely to die here than on any other 8000m climb.

Threat of storms and avalanches loom over the mountain’s hulking glacial architecture. The south face, in particular, is widely considered the most dangerous climb on Earth.

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Just a stone’s throw from some of Africa’s most celebrated safari destinations, the astonishing Lake Natron remains irresistibly isolated and under-explored. But with so much to offer and with the world outside drawing ever nearer, Christopher Clark is left wondering what the future holds for this hidden highlight.

The air seems hotter and drier with every minute. The golden savannah grasslands and flat-top acacia trees, images synonymous with a Tanzanian safari, soon give way to parched, rocky semi-desert. We’re slowly wilting away like old spinach in the back of the Land Cruiser.

Defying the inhospitable landscape, the bomas (enclosures) we pass belong to the semi-nomadic Maasai, with fences of thorny acacia branches wrapped around them in perfect circles. Long lines of cattle and goats kick up clouds of dust all around us. Barefoot children run towards the side of the car in excitement as our small film crew passes.

The Mountain of God rises serenely ahead of us

When we stop to stretch our legs, we are instantly enveloped by a crowd of Maasai women who seem to have materialized out of the earth beneath our feet. They hold up colourful beads and cloth for sale, and ask us to take photos of them in their traditional garb in return for a small fee. It’s suddenly apparent that although this area remains irresistibly isolated for now, we are not the first intrepid tourists to tread here.

Credit: Christopher Clark

In fact, a number of local operators, including our hosts Tanzania-Experience, are looking to tap into Lake Natron’s hitherto under-explored offerings, and have started to include it on their Northern Circuit camping itineraries. After all, we’re just a few bumpy hours’ drive from safari icons including the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, as well as the transport hub of Arusha.

We continue along our route and soon we can see Ol Doinyo Lengai, Maasai for “Mountain of God”, rising serenely ahead of us. Ol Doinyo Lengai is an active volcano, and around its peak an uneven white coat that resembles a giant bird dropping bears witness to the last eruption back in 2007. A solitary cloud hovers directly above the summit like a halo.

After skirting the rugged escarpment of the Great Rift Valley, finally Lake Natron comes into view ahead, its mirror-like soda and saline surface akin to a great shallow ocean coruscating in the harsh light of early afternoon. At over a thousand square kilometres in size, the lake stretches all the way to the Kenyan border somewhere inside the haze on the horizon. It’s home to more than two million crimson-winged flamingos, while fauna in the surrounding area includes giraffe and zebra.

Credit: Christopher Clark

We pull up at our campsite for the night, which has plenty of shade and raised views from the hillside right across the lake. Our guide Enock tells us the property is owned by an enterprising Maasai businessman who was born in the area and has great faith in its tourism potential, as evinced by the various unfinished developments – a pool, a conference centre and luxury safari tents – dotted around his property. Today though, we are his only guests.

Maasai men lead a life little-changed in the last hundred years

A few lean Maasai teenage boys with large knives on their belts emerge from one of the outbuildings and help us set up our tents. Every so often, one of the boys will pause and pull a mobile phone out of his robe, type furiously for a moment or two and then resume his work. I wonder what impact this technology has had on a way of life that otherwise seems to have changed little over the past hundred years.

I also wonder whether these teenagers will still be in this place, living this way, in another ten years. The world outside is drawing ever closer, and the area’s rich biodiversity and cultural heritage are threatened by deforestation, oil and gas exploration and a proposed soda ash plant.

Credit: Christopher Clark

In June 2015, local villagers signed a deal with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) that they hope will go some way to securing the area’s future. If carefully managed, more tourist footprints could make a valuable contribution too.

Having unpacked and taken a quick power nap at our campsite, the early evening temperature is less oppressive and we make our way down to the lake shore to get a closer look at the flamingos, who it turns out don’t smell half as pretty as they look, even from some distance. We can’t get too close anyway – the high alkalinity of the shallow water in Lake Natron can seriously burn the skin, ensuring the birds’ safety from any predators.

In softer light the undulating Rift Valley escarpment looks less hostile but even more striking

At the top of a nearby hill we set up a table and chairs and settle in for a cold sundowner. We look out over the perfectly still surface of the lake, its edges studded with pink birds. In the softer light, the ancient undulating Rift Valley escarpment looks greener and less hostile, and even more striking. We have this view all to ourselves.

Down at water level, a lone Maasai herder walks across the dry, cracked earth into the distance, presided over by the Mountain of God. What the future holds for him and his region remains to be seen, but it’s not hard to see why many around here don’t seem to be in any great hurry for change.

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