South America is blessed with some of the most astonishing landscapes on earth. This dynamic continent has enthralled travellers for centuries with its array of natural wonders, ancient ruins and modern metropolises. It holds some of the world’s most impressive beaches, most fascinating cultures and most thrilling adventure activities.

But one of the greatest joys of exploring South America is just travelling itself. From the Rough Guide to South America on a Budget, we’ve picked six of of the most impressive routes to kick-start your trip planning…

1. The Inca Trail, Peru

The four-day hike between Cusco and Machu Picchu, a spell-binding mountain trek into the Inca past, needs no introduction.

Although just one of the Inca trails you can follow across the Andes, what makes this 33km route so popular is the unrivalled reward of Machu Picchu at its end. The most famous ruins in South America are a place that – no matter how jaded you are – stop you in your tracks.

 Image by Dreamstime.com: Jarnogz

2. Carretera Austral, Chile

To see the wettest, greenest and wildest part of Chile, head to Northern Patagonia where the Carretera Austral, the partially paved, partly dirt-and-gravel “Southern Highway”, stretches for 1240km from Puerto Montt to tiny Villa O’Higgins.

The rounding ice-fields, vast glaciers and jagged fjords along this spectacular highway are most easily visited with your own wheels, but most are reachable by public transport; all you need is a bit of time and some organizational skills, since not all buses run daily.

3. Death Road, Bolivia

One of the most popular trips in Bolivia, and some travellers’ sole reason for crossing the border, is a chance to hurtle down the infamous Death Road. This hair-raising adventure involves a 3500m descent along the old road from La Paz to Coroico in the Yungas.

Be careful when planning a trip, though – cyclists have been killed or seriously injured on this rough, narrow track chiselled out of near-vertical mountainsides, and you must choose a tour operator with great care.

The Bolivian Death Road by Matthew Straubmuller via Flickr (CC license)

4. Ruta 40, Argentina

The legendary Ruta 40 (or RN40) runs from the top to the bottom of Argentina, following the line of the Andes all the way to the far south from the border with Bolivia. It covers 5000km and 11 provinces, crosses 18 important rivers on 236 bridges, and connects 13 great lakes and salt flats, 20 national parks and hundreds of communities. There’s little wonder it’s one of the most famous attractions in the country.

If you haven’t got your own wheels, head to the section between El Calafate/El Chaltén and Bariloche. Long popular with backpackers, with much of this route is paved and buses run its length almost daily in season – but it still retains a sense of isolation thanks to the endless pampas scrubland, interrupted only by the occasional tiny settlement or estancia.

Atardecer en la Ruta 40 by Juan Carlos Martins via Flickr (CC license)

5. Serra Verde Railway, Brazil

The Serra Verde Express is one of the most scenic train journeys in Brazil. This enchanting ride winds around mountainsides, slips through tunnels and traverses one of the largest Atlantic Forest reserves in the country.

In fact, it’s one of our top reasons to visit Brazil’s overlooked southern states. Make sure to sit on the left-hand side of the train for the best views (or on the right if you’re not good with heights).

Serra Verde Express by Henri Bergius via Flickr (CC license)

6. The Circuit, Torres del Paine, Chile

The great massif contained within the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, with the sheer granite towers of Las Torres to the east, and the multicoloured Los Cuernos to the west, is one of Patagonia’s most jaw-dropping sights. The park offers incomparable opportunities for backcountry hiking, as well as animal spotting; you are likely to see guanacos – wild relatives of llamas – and ñandú or rhea (like a small ostrich).

To best soak up the charms and wildlife of this rugged landscape, embark on “The Circuit” – a seven- to ten-day hike. An extended version of the popular “W”, this route that leads you around the back of the Torres, giving you some respite from the inevitable crowds.

Explore more of South America with the Rough Guide to South America on a BudgetCompare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

In far-off lands, largely undiscovered by travellers today, there are fires eternally burning; some natural and some man-made. These impressive fire craters can be found across Central Asia, fed by the vast oil reserves that lie beneath this region. They’ve featured in both local folklore and Hollywood movies as the entrances to Hell.

If you’re brave enough to risk meeting the devil at one of these give, then you are almost guaranteed to have a great big bonfire all to yourself.

“The Door to Hell” in Derweze, Turkmenistan

Locally referred to as “the door to hell”, the Derweze fire crater has been, until recently, off-limits to man for over 45 years. This gigantic flaming hole in the arid Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan would be more at home in a big-budget science fiction blockbuster than in the back garden of one of the world’s least-explored countries.

The impressive flaming crater first appeared in 1971 when Soviet geologists drilled an oil test well in the area; little did they expect the oil rig to collapse and a 70 metre hole to engulf their equipment. The geologists decided to burn off the oil to prevent future explosions and the fires have been burning ever since.

Golden Eagle Silk Road by Martha de Jong-Lantink on Flickr (license)

The Derweze site lies in a tiny village of 350 people, a 162 mile off-road self-drive across rocky desert terrain. Other than the village, there is no sign of civilisation within a day’s driving distance. Adding to the desolate feel, the Aral Sea – with its eerie abandoned rusting ships – lies to the north.

“Burning Mountain” in Yanar Dag, Azerbaijan

In Azerbaijan – nicknamed the “land of fire” – the Yanar Dag (translated as “Burning Mountain”), is a flaming hill. Legend says that the hill, where highly flammable gas continuously seeps through the surface, was accidentally set alight by a shepherd in the 1950s. Now the hill’s flames reach up to three metres tall throughout the year, all visible from the capital, Baku.

Locals bathe in the warm spring waters across the hillside, which can also be ignited with a match as they are full of sulphur. The spooky glow across the hills at night attracts Zoroastrians from across the world, who come to the area to worship. Nearby, mud volcanoes dot the landscape and erupt regularly, spurting mud balls high into the air.

Yanar Dag – Asheron – Baku by Rita Willaert on Flickr (license

“Flaming Stone” in Yanartaş, Turkey

Just outside of the popular Turkish tourist resort of Antalya, near the Olympos Valley, vents in the rocky mountains spurt out fire in every direction.

At night, and especially in the winter months, the dark skies create the best environment to see the small craters in the mountainside to spurt out fires; some lasting for seconds, and others for days.

Many people visit the “flaming stone” to see the majestic ruins of the Temple of Hephasistos located at the foot of the mountains, and to sample traditional Turkish tea brewed by locals on the mountain fires.

“Fire on Biblical Proportions” in Baba Gurgur, Iraq

In the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, just outside of the city of Kirkuk, the world’s second largest oil field surrounds an eternal fire pit. The deep fire crater has been burning for thousands of years and is believed to be the fiery furnace in the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament.

Women sometimes visit Baba Gurgur to ask the fires to allow them to conceive a baby boy; thought to date back to a time when the Kurdish people worshipped fire.

The nearby city of Kirkuk, with its 5000-year-old citadel ruins, remnants of the ancient city of Arrapha, makes for an interesting visit. Kirkuk lies some 147 miles north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, and Baba Gurgur is just a short walk out of the city. As the area is an operational oil field, many sections are fenced off and there’s a tight security presence.

The fire temple of Ateshgah of Baku, Azerbaijan

Just a short walk from central Baku stands a seventeenth-century stone temple, at the centre of which a fire has burned almost-continuously since it was built. The flames were once fed by a natural gas field located directly beneath the temple, but exploitation of this resource led to the fire being extinguished in 1969. It has since been replaced by mains gas, and is burning again today.

The fire is believed to have been first lit as a shrine for local Zoroastrian fire worshippers, and as a Hindu pilgrimage site, but today is a protected historical reserve.

See more of our weird and wonderful world with this gallery of strange and surreal placesCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Thailand is the quintessential backpacker destination. Here you can make the first footprints on secluded sands, dance shoeless under a full moon and swim beneath cascading waterfalls.

Running through Thailand’s rainforests and temples and looping around its islands and beaches is the so-called “banana pancake trail”, a well-worn, tried and tested backpacker route that has seen the sandals of thousands of independent travellers over the decades.

They’re still coming in their droves and you’re a part of the action as soon as you strap on that backpack – the accessory that ensures you won’t even have the chance to get lonely.

Must-see destinations

For a frenetic introduction to Thailand, head straight to Bangkok where the neon lights and market stalls of Khao San Road still serve as the country’s main backpacker hangout. Slurp noodles, sip local beer and visit the gilded Grand Palace and Wat Pho’s giant gold reclining Buddha with your new friends.

For impressive Thai temples, head to Ayutthaya in the north, the country’s ancient capital now scattered with temples in varying stages of decay. The brooding red-brick ruins are best viewed at sunset, when the golden light makes this atmospheric city a photographer’s dream.

If you’re after something a little more laidback, Kanchanaburi is the spot for you. You can take a train along the famous Death Railway, built by prisoners of war during World War II, see the Bridge over the River Kwai and swim at the tumbling seven-tiered Erawan Falls.

Ko Pha Ngan is where the sands of Hat Rin see up to 30,000 people arrive each month for the famous full moon parties. The party starts at dusk, when thousands of lamps are lit, and continues through the night, with dancing, fire twirling and, of course, drinking.

If you want to get to know the locals, head to Chiang Mai, the jumping off point for numerous guided multi-day treks and short walks in the country’s remote north. Here you can visit small local communities and hill-tribes.

Getting around

A journey by tuk tuk is an essential Thai travel experience and you’re sure to use these noisy, fume-cloaked but very fun vehicles to get around, especially in Bangkok. Fares are the same no matter the number of passengers so team up with one or two (three is the safe maximum) other travellers to save money. Agree the fare before setting out (expect to pay 100-150 baht for short Bangkok hops) and be sure to have the right money ready on arrival.

Solo travellers can make good use of the motorcycle taxis that ply all common routes in both major towns and more off-the-beaten-track parts. These only seat one passenger and are no good if you’ve got luggage, but short journeys across town or the island can be good value (as low as 20 baht).

Thailand is a sizeable country and distances between large towns can be great (it’s 700km from Bangkok to Chiang Mai). An overnight bus or train is a good way of getting from A to B while also saving the cost of a hostel.

The overnight trains are operated by the State Railway of Thailand and run on four useful routes out of Bangkok, including services to Ayutthaya, to Chiang Mai and to Surat Thani (a jumping off point for many of the southern islands).

Second-class berths are the best bet for solo travellers, with the communal comfortable seats converting into fully flat curtained-off beds come nightfall.

First-class cabins are set up for two so only book these if you’re happy sharing with a stranger. Bring snacks and drinks and settle in for a long journey.

Don’t fancy the long journey alone? There are plenty of internal flights, with Bangkok Airways, Air Asia, Nok Air (Thai Airways’ budget arm) and Thai Lion Air all offering daily Bangkok-Chiang Mai flights with a flight time of 1hr 15min. Flying also means not having to go back to Bangkok – trains and buses use the capital as a hub meaning you will keep ending up back there.

Where to eat

Eating alone in Thailand doesn’t need to mean a table for one. The best food is often found at the local night market, where mobile kitchens sell noodles, fried rice, sticky rice cakes, pancakes and fresh juices, and seating is communal and lively.

Almost every large town will have street stalls selling noodles day and night, so you can fill up without even sitting down.

Many hostels have cafés or restaurants, where you won’t stand out as a solo diner and may even meet fellow travellers in search of dining companions. Most travellers love nothing more than discussing where they’ve been or are going over a bowl of noodles or a beer.

How to meet people

If you want to meet people, sticking to the main backpacker destinations (including those listed above) is the best bet. Stay in hostels rather than hotels – choose to stay in a dorm so you’ll be sharing with other people and not holed up alone.

In Bangkok stay on or near the Khao San Road for the best chance of impromptu Singhas with your new friends – NapPark is a good choice, with its communal tamarind-shaded courtyard and TV room.

In Chiang Mai, Diva Guesthouse has six­-bed dorms and a sociable café on the ground floor, while Kanchanaburi’s Jolly Frog has a communal atmosphere and hammocks in the central, leafy garden.

Compass Backpacker’s Hostel by James Antrobus on Flickr (license)

Group activities are a great way to make friends fast. You can try everything, from day trips to Thai cookery courses. If you want an insight into Thailand through food, in Bangkok try Helping Hands or the vegetarian May Kaidee, and in Chiang Mai the Thai Cookery School.

For more of an adventure, take a zipline tour through the rainforest near Chiang Mai with Flight of the Gibbon or learn to scuba dive with The Dive Academy on Koh Samui.

A girl’s guide: is it safe for solo female travellers?

Thailand is largely safe for solo travellers of both genders, and despite the country’s prolific sex industry, women are unlikely to attract any more attention than men when travelling alone.

When travelling alone in Thailand, the standard rules apply: don’t take unlicensed taxis and don’t go home with strangers. As long as you use your common sense, Thailand is a perfectly safe place to travel.

Many hostels will have female-only dorms, which may be safer, not to mention a great way to meet other female travellers.

Unfortunately drug-muggings are known to sometimes happen in Thailand, but these are easily avoided. Don’t eat or drink anything a stranger gives you, especially on a train or at a full moon party. Trains and buses are ripe for petty theft so keep all your valuables with you when you travel.

Get more advice on your solo trip to Thailand with the Rough Guide to ThailandCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Beyond the mystical sounds of gamelan and the intricate craft of batik, Bali boasts a world of subcultures often overlooked by visitors. The art makes bold statements, nightlife sometimes involves a new tattoo, and music is anything but serene.

On an island where locals are often denied entry from bars and clubs, an experience off the typical tourist trail is both vital and enlightening. Kick-start your journey into Indonesia‘s underground with this alternative list of things to do on the Island of Gods.

Get weird at Black Market

What do pet snakes, drunk tarot readers, homeless artists, punk hairdressers, organic grocers, and the police have in common? They’ve all appeared at Black Market Bali.

This unpredictable art event pops up where and whenever it pleases, welcoming whoever wants to set up. With no schedule or restrictions, it tends to unfold like some chaotic hybrid between a circus and a garage sale. Buy, sell, browse, perform or party to a backdrop of live music, quirky vendors and rice fields.
Jl. Basangkasa No. 88, Seminyak

Skate the pool at Pretty Poison

When a venue in Bali says it’s having a pool party, you can usually bet on gaggles of the scantily clad and sunburnt swaying to last year’s top forty. But not at Pretty Poison. Here the pool stays drained for skateboarders to party in day and night.

Live music, skate competitions, dance parties, open-air movie screenings, art shows and tattoo nights all go down surrounded by Canggu’s tranquil rice paddies. Rambunctious skaters respectfully wait for their turn to shred the pool, while onlookers mingle, dance and get inked.

Most importantly, Pretty Poison one of the few venues remaining on the island that attracts a roughly equal mix of Indonesians and foreigners.
Short Cut Road, Jl. Subak, Canggu

A video posted by @prettypoison___ on

Tune into the contemporary at Ghostbird + Swoon

Run by a young Balinese woman and and her American partner, Ghostbird + Swoon doubles as an art gallery and curatorial space for experimental fashion. Their manifesto? “‘We seek beauty. Not the thoughtless, fleeting kind. But the ugly kind that takes time, mistakes, intelligence, obsessive reflection and mad skills to cultivate.“ The space features works by contemporary artists, often Indonesian women, with exhibitions examining themes such as female identity in regional society, and the artistic potential of junk. Engage with the thought-provoking work here and you’re sure to gain a nuanced understanding of this vast, complex country. Jl. Danau Tamblingan No. 75, Sanur

 

Rock out at Twice Bar

It’s no secret that Kuta, Bali‘s commercial centre, is a little trashy – especially after dark. Developers and binge-drinking foreigners have transformed the area into a mishmash of uninspired nightclubs, sleazy bars and tourist traps. But in the midst of all the debauchery, one venue is worth your time: Twice Bar, founded by members of popular Balinese punk band Superman is Dead. The frenetic sound of Indonesian punk rock keeps most foreigners away, but if you’re looking to begin an off-beat Balinese night out, this is the place to be. Heavy music is an important part of Indonesian culture – Napalm Death is the President’s favourite band, after all. Enjoy cheap arak (the palm sap equivalent of moonshine), adrenaline-fueled shows, an in-bar tattoo parlour and friendly Anarcho-Indonesian company. Jl. Popies II, Kuta

A video posted by Nugra dadee (@nug412) on

Take shelter at Revolver Espresso

Hidden down nameless a Seminyak backstreet, the original Revolver Espresso isn’t easy to find but is worth the hunt – they serve the best coffee on the island. Inside, you might think you’ve wandered into a trendy East London warehouse, with high ceilings and chipped white paint on rough brick walls.

But there’s enough comfy seating and vintage bric-a-brac to keep this industrial space feeling cosy. The shop has become famous for its premium beans, carefully sourced from around the world, roasted in-house, and brewed to perfection.

With fun tunes always spinning on vinyl, and delicious food to boot –try the poached eggs on mashed avocado, homemade relish and sourdough toast – it’s an ideal place to escape the island heat or wait-out the rain.
Jl. Kayu Aya, Gang 51, Seminyak

Iced Revolver shot by Jonathan Ooi (CC license)

Buy a taco and get a free tattoo at The Temple of Enthusiasm

Lifestyle brand Deus Ex Machina makes bespoke café racer-inspired motorcycles, artisanal surfboards, skateboards, clothing and more. Since the opening of their flagship, The Temple of Enthusiasm, the once sleepy village of Canggu has transformed into into the island’s most happening area.

Whether you’re in it for the Temple’s hip concept store, art gallery, bar, restaurant, half-pipe, farmers markets, movie nights, high-speed dress-up drag races, live music, longboard competitions or Taco Tattuesdays (free tattoo with the purchase of your taco) – this bona fide Bali institution is an absolute must.
Jalan Batu Mejan No. 8, Canggu

Surf, snack, and drink a cold one at Batu Bolong Beach

A steep, black-sand beach with waves perfect for longboarding brings beginners and tattooed, retro-looking surfers to Batu Bolong.

Factor in a bustling Hindu temple, Balinese family gatherings, Indonesian street food, unbeatable sunsets and Old Man’s – a tiki bar-style beer garden that gets wild on Wednesday nights – and you’ll discover the atmosphere of this beach is tough to beat.
Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong, Canggu

Batu Bolong sunset by bruno kvot (CC license)

Kick back at a late-night goreng stall

Whether you’re wrapping up after a hard day of surfing, exploring or doing a whole lot of nothing, there’s no better place to unwind than at at one of Bali’s many roadside late-night goreng tents.

Pass on the cutlery (though it’s not usually on offer) and use your hands to tuck into fried chicken or tempeh (a soy product sort of like tofu), served with a side of mouth-watering sambal (spicy chili sauce), white rice and a single lettuce leaf.

Their ramshackle, bare-bones atmosphere is the perfect complement to the intense flavours served up, and locals are always happy to chat. This really is Balinese nightlife at its finest.

Bali street food by steve deeves (CC license)

Explore more of the Bali coastline with The Rough Guide to Bali & LombokCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

I’m an Aussie girl and have been living and working in Uganda for the past fifteen years. Apart from my “regular” day job, I’m also a freelance photographer.

I arrived in Uganda in August 2000, with my husband, after an eight-month 4×4 overland journey we started in London, in December 1999. It was during this journey I realised how important it was to document both photographically and in writing, the extraordinary people and places we had encountered.

Soon after arrival in Uganda we volunteered to build a school in Gulu, in the north. Once the school was completed we decided to stay, for the foreseeable future, and make Kampala our home.

Through travel and documentary photography, my sole intention is to show the beauty that abounds both in Uganda and other parts of the world, by providing a visual gift to those who may not have the means to experience it as I have.

Golola the boda boda rider, Kampala

Rainforest at the foot of the Rwenzori Mountains

A troop of roaming baboons, Ishasha

Sunset, Kalangala District, Ssese Islands

The Bahá’í House of Worship, Kampala

St Balikuddembe Market, Kampala

A gathering of family members, Kaiso Village, Lake Albert

Queen Elizabeth National Park

A tree lion having an afternoon rest, Ishasha

Dancing at UN World Refugee Day celebrations, Rwamwanja Settlement Camp

Dusk over Sipi Falls, Kapchowra

Main prayer hall, Uganda National Mosque, Kampala

Henry, the fashion conscious boda boda rider, Kampala

Sunrise over Mweya Peninsula, Queen Elizabeth National Park

Aerial view of Ssese Canoes being crafted, Mukono District

You can see more of Clare’s photography on her website here and her Facebook page here. Thinking of Africa? Find out more with the Rough Guide to First Time Africa

A country in the throes of massive change, Sri Lanka’s heady mix of British colonial heritage, beautiful landscapes and incredibly friendly locals make it a beguiling destination. But the tropical isle has only cropped up on travellers’ radars in recent years, following the end of the country’s 26-year-long civil war in 2009. With more tourists heading to Sri Lanka every year, now is the perfect time to visit. Here are ten tips and tricks to help first-time visitors.

1. Prepare to go slow

Although infrastructure is improving and transport options are plentiful, getting around this modestly-sized country might feel a little trying at times, with its tightly winding roads and engine-testing inclines. The Hill Country is particularly notorious for eating away at time – whether traveling by bus, tuk tuk or train, expect to inch from one tea plantation to the next at speeds of around 12-15 miles per hour. For those with little time or deep pockets, taking a seaplane or hiring a car and driver are good alternatives.

2. Go to relax, not to rave

Outside of Colombo, and a few beach resorts, hostels with dorm rooms tend to be thin on the ground. Family-run guesthouses are much more common, which means it’s easy to meet locals but tricky for solo travellers hoping to make friends on the road. As an emerging honeymoon hotspot Sri Lanka also attracts a lot of couples. Those looking for nightlife to rival Bangkok’s Khao San Road will leave unfulfilled: beach bars pepper Arugam Bay on the east coast and Hikkaduwa on the west, but these are mellow affairs and many shut down out of season.

3. Treat yourself

If you’ve got Sri Lankan rupees to spare there are plenty of new luxury hotels and resorts where you can spend them. International names such as Aman have already set up shop on the island, and Shangri-La has two new hotels scheduled to open soon. But it’s the home-grown, luxury hotel mini-chains that you ought to keep your eye on. Uga Escapes and Resplendent Ceylon are just two examples of burgeoning local brands that offer more than just copy and paste properties. There are tonnes of great budget boutique hotels across the country.

4. Go north to get away from the crowds

Formerly off limits, the country’s Northern Province is prime territory for those who want to roam off the beaten path. A Tamil Tiger stronghold, it was one of the last areas on the island to reopen to tourists, and has yet to succumb to the same wave of hotels, resorts and other developments, or to receive the same flurry of foreign visitors. If you’re after deserted golden beaches, remote temples and colonial port towns go north.

5. Focus on food

Sri Lankan food is delicious, so make the most of it while you’re there. Though knowing where and when to find the good stuff may prove a harder task than you anticipated. Bowl-shaped hoppers (savoury rice flour crêpes) are a highlight, though are typically only served first thing in the morning or in late afternoon. Rice and curry is a lunchtime affair, while kottu rotty (chopped flatbread stir-fried with eggs and vegetables) is only available in the evening. Those familiar with Asia will be surprised at the lack of street food stalls; instead, some of the best food can be found in the kitchens of small guesthouses.

6. Consider Colombo

With jazz clubs, rooftop bars, boutique stores and internationally-acclaimed restaurants, Colombo can no longer be considered merely a gateway city. And though there are a number of sights to see, the capital is also a great place to simply settle in and get a sense of what local life is like. Watch families fly kites on Galle Face Green at sunset, cheer for the national cricket team at the R Premadasa Stadium or observe grandmothers swathed in vivid saris bargain with stallholders at Pettah Market.

7. Plan around the seasons

While the monsoon rains might not dampen your enthusiasm for exploring bear in mind that experiences can vary wildly depending on the season. If you’re desperate to climb Adam’s Peak, for example, then visit during pilgrimage season (December-May). Outside of these months it’s still possible to hike to the summit, but the myriad tea shops that line the path will be closed and you’ll climb with a handful of tourists instead of hundreds of local devotees, meaning much of the atmosphere and camaraderie among climbers is lost.

8. Get active

Sri Lanka might be known for its stupas, beaches and tea plantations but it’s also crammed with adrenalin-packed activities. Why not try surfing in Arugam Bay, hiking the Knuckles Mountain Range or white-water rafting in Kelaniya Ganga, Kitulgala. Cycling holidays are also becoming increasingly popular with a number of international tour operators offering specialist tours.

9. Make the most of your money

By western standards Sri Lanka is still a cheap destination, but prices are rising quickly: the cost of a cultural show in Kandy has doubled in the last year alone. For everyday items like tea and toothpaste head to the supermarkets in big cities where you can rest assured that you’re not paying over the odds. In the corner shops of smaller cities simply check the packaging, which has the price printed next to the letters ‘Rs.’ (meaning rupees).

10. Understand the culture

At its closest point, only 18 miles of aquamarine waters separate Sri Lanka and India, but there’s a world of difference between the two. The pace of life in Sri Lanka feels much less frantic than that of its neighbour, which makes it ideal for those intrigued, yet intimidated, by India. Few locals bat an eyelid at western visitors and while covering up is always appreciated (and necessary at places of worship), wearing shorts and vests is unlikely to attract much attention.

Explore Sri Lanka with the Rough Guide to Sri LankaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Bobby’s mullet blows in the wind as he pilots his dinky motorcycle down Copenhagen‘s cobbled backstreets. Wobbling past kebab shops and contemporary design stores on his way to work, he looks like a living relic from a bygone era: the 1980s.

A turtleneck peeks out from beneath his blue denim jacket, which perfectly matches the wash of his jeans, and a Freddie Mercury-esque moustache conceals his upper lip. This getup is, in part, why he’s often referred to as “Retro Bobby”.

But it’s his unconventional barbershop that’s truly earned him his retro reputation – the perfect place to unleash your inner-child, or your inner-geek. Ruben og Bobby is a basement world crammed with vintage video games, hulking pinball and arcade machines, classic consoles and old-school toys. Thoughtfully posed action figures are stuffed on shelves, curated in self-evident categories such as Ninja Turtles, He-Man, Pokémon and Power Rangers.

Image provided by Ruben og Bobby

Though Bobby’s own hair is – to put it mildly – bold, he’s a skilled barber capable of all kinds of cuts, from the 90s bowl to the latest in disheveled-chic. In a tiny room behind the salon’s front desk, there sits a single barber’s chair in front of a mirror and a first-generation Nintendo for customers to play during their snip. Beat the high score and receive a 20% discount off the price.

Customers pay for their new doos in Danish Krone, Bitcoins or cool retro stuff – because Bobby also accepts trade-ins for his goods and services. Though his business model might not conquer the world, in Copenhagen Ruben og Bobby works. But why?

Image provided by Ruben og Bobby

He has created something much more than a barbershop or vintage toy store. The space functions as both an interactive museum and art installation of sorts – a nostalgic homage to a time of chunky plastic, ground-breaking creativity and experimental design left behind in our race towards a more virtual future.

The shop is a refuge from Copenhagen’s crowded hotspots and a worthwhile place to hang, whether you’re due for a trim, looking to buy or just feel like playing some vintage games. With special events like 8-bit music parties and arcade tournaments it’s a social environment too – so don’t be surprised if you end up befriending a bunch of Danish locals, including Retro Bobby himself.

Retro Bobby

from Copenhagers on Vimeo.

Ruben og Bobby is located at Bjelkes Alle 7a in Nørrebro, Copenhagen‘s hippest and most multicultural neighbourhood. To book a haircut, and for more on the shop, check out rubenogbobby.squarespace.com. Explore more of the city with the Pocket Rough Guide CopenhagenCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Travel isn’t always easy, but in these destinations it’s certainly a little more challenging. Here are some of the world’s more difficult destinations that are totally worth the effort.

1. Chipaya, Bolivia

High on the windswept plains of Bolivia, the Uru Chipaya are one of the oldest peoples of South America, having survived for thousands of years on such arid land that even the Incas avoided. Living in huts made of mud and straw, you won’t find any modern comforts in Chipaya, but you will experience an ancient culture that has hardly changed its customs or dress for millennia.

2. Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia

Known as the ‘Pearl of Siberia’, Lake Baikal is the world’s oldest and deepest lake. In winter, the water freezes over and its uneven icy surface stretches as far as the eye can see. It’s best to travel by car to reach the most isolated ice grottoes but be careful; cracks, slabs of ice and a dangerously slippery surface mean it’s best to hire an experienced driver. Although, if you really want to test your perseverance, try walking across the lake.

3. Aldabra, Seychelles

Incredibly isolated and wonderfully untouched, it’s no surprise that David Attenborough described Aldabra as one of the wonders of the world. With no regular ship or air services, the intrepid traveller will need to organise their own transport to reach the remote paradise. Strong tides around the island and challenging terrain are worth braving for the vibrant sea life and chance to spot an endangered giant tortoise.

4. Derweze, Turkmenistan

Deep in the barren Karakum desert, you’ll find the otherworldly Door To Hell, a fiery natural gas crater that has been burning for more than forty years. The mesmerising sight is visible for miles, and is best visited at night when it juxtaposes stunningly against the dark sky.

5. Easter Island, Chile

Once the home of the Rapa Nui, Easter Island is one of the most isolated inhabited islands on Earth. The landscape is dotted with imposing moai statues, relics of its ancient Polynesian culture. The Rapa Nui devastated the island’s natural resources, destroying its environment, so the rugged terrain can be testing, particularly in bad weather.

6. Kungsleden, Sweden

If we asked you to think of Western Europe’s last remaining wilderness areas, you might not have Sweden in mind. But in the far north of Swedish lapland, the atmospheric and grandly-named Kungsleden, or King’s Trail, is a stunning area of untouched natural beauty. Although much of the trail is well-adapted for hikers, try a route through Sarek National Park, where there are no marked trails, for a real challenge.

7. Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland

Ittoqqortoormiit, on the eastern coast of Greenland, is the country’s most isolated and undisturbed region. The neighbouring sea freezes over for nine months of the year, making it even harder to access, but visit in winter to experience it at its best. The colourful houses on the shore poke out above thick snow and the ice can reach six feet deep. Roads become unusable, so dogsleds and ski-mobiles are the preferred form of transport.

8. Alert, Nunavut, Canada

Canada’s Nunavut is its largest but also least populous territory. Inaccessible over land and with a largely polar climate, Nunavut boasts Alert, the most northerly permanently inhabited place in the world. Go to see the gorgeous midnight sun and mesmerising northern lights – a trip that’s certainly worth the effort.

9. Macquarie Island, Subantarctic Islands

Sitting between New Zealand and Antarctica, the remote, icy and utterly fascinating subantarctic islands are filled with rare and endangered species. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, you’ll find fur and elephant seals as well as royal, king and gentoo penguins on Macquarie Island.

10. Salavan, Laos

Wide open spaces, spectacular waterfalls and mountainous terrain characterise the Lao province of Salavan. Despite the stunning scenery, little tourism infrastructure or transport means that its remote villages still attract only the most intrepid travellers.

11. Northwestern Laikipia, Kenya

Beautiful, wild and unexplored, northwestern Laikipia is one of the best places in Kenya for safaris. There are limited accommodation options so it’s a great place to try wild camping, though be aware that wildlife in this area roams freely and isn’t confined to the bush. You’ll need a local guide for protection if anything dangerous comes too close. Look out for lions, elephants and giraffe as well as aardwolves, aardvarks and hundreds of bird species.

12. Kolsai Lakes, Kazakhstan

Thousands of metres above sea level, the clear blue waters of Kazakhstan’s idyllic Kolsai Lakes are an impressive sight. The long road from Almaty is poor, and there’s little infrastructure, but prepare yourself for the remote slopes with plenty of supplies and you’ll experience a rewarding and picturesque hike through the green alpine forest.

13. Gobi desert, Mongolia

Gobi means ‘waterless place’ and the Mongolian desert’s extreme temperatures and barren, rocky landscape make it a harsh, unforgiving environment. Stay in a Mongolian nomad’s distinctive felt yurt for a unique experience away from civilisation.

14. Batanes, The Philippines

Powerful waves pummel the shores of the ten tiny islands of the Batanes, which boast more lighthouses than anywhere else in the Philippines. Plan your visit carefully, as the islands are prone to wild storms and typhoons. If you do get caught out, escape the hostile environment by finding refuge in a traditional stone Ivatan house.

15. Tiger’s nest monastery, Bhutan

Brave the 3000ft climb up a mountain to Takstang Palphug and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views from arguably the most breathtaking Buddhist monastery in the world. Built into the rock, the four main temples are accessed by narrow passages, unstable bridges and stone stairways. Perched on the edge of a cliff, this is not a trip for not for the faint-hearted.

16. Choquequirao, Peru

High above the Apurimac, discover the magnificent remains of ancient Incan city Choquequirao. A three to four day trek through the Peruvian cloud forest means that, unlike the daily crowds at Machu Picchu, you’ll be among the few visitors to these awe-inspiring ruins.

17. Knivskjellodden, Norway

The wild, harsh winters of Knivskjellodden may not immediately entice travellers, but the dramatic landscape will both enthral and bewilder. Trek the northernmost trail to write your name in the hiking association’s minute book.

18. North Korea

One of the most inaccessible countries in the world, tourist visits to North Korea are run by government-sanctioned tours. While the country can be dangerous, travel safely and consciously and you’ll be given a fascinating insight into a very different culture.

19. Cape York Peninsula, Australia

Prehistoric rock art, tropical rainforests and eucalypt woodland; Cape York Peninsula is like nowhere else on Earth. It’s virtually inaccessible in the wet season, and even in summer you’ll need to endure a rough, bumpy four-wheel drive to reach the peninsula. Once there, pitch a tent and make the most of the wild but beautiful landscape, which is ideal for adventure sports, and is bordered by the Great Barrier Reef on its eastern coast.

20. St George Island, The Pribilof Islands, Alaska, USA

Sometimes called the ‘Galapagos of the North’, the Pribilof Islands are located in the Bering Sea three hundred miles from Alaska’s coast. Abundant with fur seals and birdlife, the unspoilt rolling hills are a photographer’s paradise, but harsh winds, rain and thick fog will make for an even more adventurous trip.

You can’t expect to fit everything Southeast Asia has to offer into one trip – or two or three or four, to be fair – and we don’t suggest you try. So, to help you start planning, we’ve put together 8 ideas for your Southeast Asia itinerary from The Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget.

For those taking a big, extended trip around the continent you could join a few together, but remember that the distances you’ll be covering can be vast. Plus, there’s lots to discover off the beaten track.

For a complete guide to exploring the region and up-to-date recommendations of the best hotels, hostels, activities and more, buy the full guide here.

1. Vietnam

Start in colonial streets of Hanoi (1), the country’s historical, political and cultural capital. Go for a sail around the famed natural wonders of Ha Long Bay (2), before heading to the northern hills to the ethnic minority villages orbiting Sa Pa (3).

Take the train down to imperial architecture of Hué (4), make a day-trip to the DMZ, then move south to charming Hoi An (5). Nha Trang (6) is Vietnam‘s pre-eminent beach party town, whereas Mui Ne (7) offers great water-sports and sandy coasts with a more laidback vibe.

Da Lat (8) is your gateway to the Central Highlands, but if you’re still craving sea and sand the island of Phy Quoc (9) is a haven for beach bums and divers. Float down lush canals in the Mekong Delta (10), and finish your trip in bustling Ho Chi Minh City (11).

2. Myanmar

Kick off in Yangon (1) for street markets and the glorious Shwedagon Paya, then go to Mawlamyine (2), Myanmar‘s third largest city. Catch a boat to Hpa-an (3) before visiting one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the country, Kyaiktiyo (4).

Kalaw (5) is a perfect base for treks to ethnic-minority villages, and traditional life at Inle Lake (6) shouldn’t be missed either. Watch the sunset over Mandalay (7), then soar in a hot-air balloon over the awe-inspiring temples of Bagan (8).

Stroll the botanical gardens at Pyin Oo Lwin (9) before taking the train ride across the Goteik viaduct to Hsipaw (10), an increasingly popular trekking base.

3. Laos and Cambodia

Begin with the unmissable two-day trip down the Mekong River from Houayxai to Luang Prabang (1), the city of golden spires. Then its off to the stunning natural playground of Vang Vieng (2), before venturing to the country’s quaint capital, Vientiane (3).

Enjoy the pretty French-colonial lanes of Savannakhet (4) and explore the Khmer ruins of Wat Phou near Champasak (5). Set course towards Si Phan Don (6) to chill out for a few days in one of the four thousand islands scattered across the Mekong River. Catch a mini-bus to Cambodia for river dolphin watching in Kratie (7), or laze riverside in relaxed Kampot (8).

An easy bus ride takes you from Phnom Penh (9) to  Siem Reap, where the world-famous temples of Angkor (10) beg to be explored. But if you’re feeling a little travel-worn afterwards there’s no better place to kick back than the beach resort and offshore islands of Sihanoukville (11).


4. Bangkok and Northern Thailand

After immersing yourself in Bangkok, Thailand’s frenetic and thriving capital, chill-out among the rafthouses and waterfalls of Kanchanaburi (2).

Rent a bicycle to explore the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya (3) and then make for the elegant temple remains in Sukhothai (4). To break free of the tourist route head to isolated Umphang (5), where the surrounding mountains are perfect for trekking.

Chaing Mai (6) is always a backpacking favourite, but an amble through the arty night markets and excellent live-music bars of Pai (7) shouldn’t be missed either.

5. Thailand’s Beaches and Islands

Commence among the old-world charms of Thailand‘s Phetchaburi (1), then take a trip to the paradisiacal islands of Ko Tao (2) and Ko Pha Ngan (3) for raging moon parties or a detox.

Trek through the jungle in Khao Sok National Park (4) ­– one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet – and as you move further south, consider a stop in the slightly ugly tourist village of Ko Phi Phi (5) for undeniably fun all-night parties, snorkelling and diving.

Continue south to the relaxed island getaway of Ko Lanta (6), before winding this itinerary down in the pockets of paradise still remaining in Ko Lipe (7) and the stunning Ko Tarutai National Marine Park nearby.

6. Singapore and Malaysia

Singapore (1) is an easy introduction to Southeast Asia with its array of tourist-friendly pleasures. But move on to Melaka (2) for a fascinating mix of cultures and an ideal first stop in Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur (3) is a must, and the cooling heights of the Cameron Highlands (4) will provide refuge after the bustle. Relax on the beaches of the Perhentian Islands (5) then make for the rainforests of Taman Negara National Park (6), before catching a ride on the jungle railway to Kota Bharu.

Attractive Kuching (7) is an ideal base for visits to the Iban longhouses, and a journey along the 560km Batang Rajang (8) river into the heart of Sarawak is unforgettable.

Nature and adventure buffs alike will love Gunung Mulu National Park (9), Kinabalu National Park (10) and the wildlife outside of Sandakan (11). Finish this itinerary among the teeming marine life of Pulau Sipadan (12), one of the top dive sties in the world.

7. Indonesia

There’s plenty to discover by starting in Sumatra’s Bukit Lawang and Danau Toba (1), the famous orang-utan centre, soaring volcanoes and island retreats among them.

Take time to explore Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta (2), before moving on to Java cultural heart: Yogyakarta (3), the best base for the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. Take a pre-dawn hike up to the crater rim of still-smoking Gunung Bromo (4), adventure the many wonders of Hindu Bali and hop over the Lombok (6) and the Gili Islands for adventures in paradise.

Enjoy close encouters with Komodo dragons in Komodo and Rinca (7) before heading to the mountainous landscapes of fertile Flores (8). Finish up on Sulawesi, immersed in the flamboyant festivals and fascinating culture of Tanah Toraja (9).

8. The Philippines

Start by soaking up the compelling energy of Manila (1), a convenient gateway to some of the country’s more inaccessible areas.

Check out the shipwrecks and prehistoric landscapes of Palawan (2), before you pass through Cebu city (3) on your way to Camiguin (4), a small volcanic island home to a bohemian arts scene and some amazing adventure activities. 

Surfers flock to the acclaimed reef breaks of Siargao (5), while the captivating sunsets and limited electricity at both Malapascua and Bantayan (6) typifies island living at its best.

Boracay (7) also shouldn’t be missed, home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and nightlife rivalling Manila. Conclude this itinerary in the cool mountain villages of the Igorot tribes in the Cordillera (8), nestled among jaw-dropping rice-terrace scenery.

Featured image by Lee Aik Soon.

As T.S. Eliot once said, “The journey, not the arrival, matters,” and nowhere is this truer than travelling in Bolivia. Here, we’ve picked five of the most beautiful travel routes through the country. Follow these to witness some of the finest scenery Bolivia has to offer.

For magnificent mountains: La Paz to Copacabana

Mode of transport: Bus
Length of journey: 3.5 hours
Suggested season: Any. Cloud cover is greater in the rainy season, Nov–April

As the road first approaches Lake Titicaca, the adobe brick of the slum settlements of El Alto, on the brow of La Paz, disappear into yellowed-grass and sparse farmland. Small settlements line the shore, dipping into the sparkling azure waters, and the bus sweeps into the winding hills which skirt the edges of the lake. At each bend, passengers can admire the impressive backdrop of the hazy mountain-giants of the Cordillera Real – La Paz’s most iconic landmarks – as they loom over the water and finally recede into the distant background.

Those lucky enough to arrive in Copacabana in the early evening will also be treated to an exquisite sunset. The final rays outline the boats bobbing on the silent waters, as the sun returns to what the Inca’s believe was its birthplace: the Isla del Sol.

This is Bolivia. by Johannes Donderer on Flickr (license)

For the intrepid explorer: Puerto Almacén to Santa Ana de Yacuma

Mode of transport: Cargo boat and 4×4
Length of journey: 3–5 days
Suggested season: Dry: April–Oct

Travel by cargo boat deep into the Amazon jungle is the ultimate adventure. Persuade a captain in Puerto Almacén, near Trinidad, to give you passage on his cargo boat and pack your waterproof clothing for the inevitable jungle showers. What makes this journey unmissable is the clamour and closeness of the jungle which encompasses the craft on its voyage, and the opportunities for sighting toucans and kingfisher in the boughs along the shoreline.

Before returning to Trinidad, spend a few days of descanso (rest) in Santa Ana. Convince a local to take you by canoe up smaller tributaries on the hunt for caiman or to spot howler and capuchin monkeys. When finally you return to Trinidad by 4×4, it’s worth the discomfort of the unpaved road. The land here is pampas – fertile, wet lowlands – and home to lounging, roadside capybara and venues of vultures who scatter as you pass.

Image by Steph Dyson

This route back also includes a lake crossing by wooden car ferry: twenty minutes of calm reflection as the boat navigates the watery landscape.

For the active traveller: Uyuni to El Salar de Uyuni to Sabaya

Mode of transport: Bicycle
Length of journey: 3–4 days
Suggested season: Dry

If exploring El Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest salt flats – on an organised tour doesn’t appeal, then this journey is for you.

The 300km route between Uyuni, El Salar de Uyuni and El Salar de Coipasa by bike is a unique alternative. Camp overnight on Isla de Pescado and sign the visitor’s book for cyclists. If you’d rather pitch up away from civilisation, a further 20km will bring you to Isla Pescador, a rarely-visited spot providing unrestricted views of sunset and sunrise across this surreal salt plain.

Continue further north to reach El Salar de Coipasa; tourist-free, appreciate here the emptiness and desolation of the seemingly limitless expanse of salt. Finish in the small town of Sabaya, roughly 100km from the city of Oruro, and recuperate with good food and a pleasant hotel.

This is a journey only for the well-equipped: sun protection and long sleeves will safeguard you from the worst of the reflected sun’s rays, while camping gear (with warm layers for night-time) and a compass or GPS are indispensable. Sufficient water and food are essential as few shops exist along the route.

Bolivien/Chile-Salar de Coipasa by kristen miranda on Flickr (license)

For a long walk: Inca trail to Los Pinos

Mode of transport: Foot
Length of journey: 2 days
Suggested season: Dry as river crossings are required

The Inca trails crisscrossing Bolivia continue to attract visitors who desire to walk in the footsteps of these ancient ancestors, and for good reason. The almost fully-paved trail between the lagoons at Tajzara in the Reserva Biologica Cordillera de Sama and Los Pinos, near the southern city of Tarija, promises striking vistas of verdant valleys and Andean wildlife such as vicuñas, llamas and condors.

Not for the inexperienced walker – as the path is occasionally unclear – the trek involves a six to eight hour descent from 3400m to 1400m down the Incan pathway. Add a day at the beginning to explore the often flamingo-inhabited lagoons, and spend a night camping on their shores beneath an unblemished canvas of stars.

Make sure you visit the Servicio Nacional de Áreas Protegidas office in Tarija to register and obtain a map before leaving.

For something a little different: Potosí to Sucre

Mode of transport: Buscarril or ‘Ferrobus’. Departing from El Tejar station in Sucre or Potosí’s Estación Central.
Length of journey: 8 hours
Suggested season: Any

The normal transport between Sucre and Potosí is by taxi or bus. But the local ‘buscarril’ service is for those who enjoy doing things differently.

Essentially a bus modified to run on train tracks, the ‘buscarril’ travels at a leisurely 30km per hour, winding between the Cordillera de los Frailes. Offering unmediated encounters with rural Bolivia as it stops in each village along the route, it also wins points for novelty: passengers may be required to wait while market stalls set up on the track are removed to allow the vehicle to pass.

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

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