Pre-conceptions are a funny thing. If someone told you about an archipelago of islands set adrift off the coast of Africa, an oasis that boasts superb beaches and perennial warmth, which is home to the world’s second largest Carnival, award-winning wines and Spain’s highest mountain, you’d probably want to visit.

If they revealed they were in fact talking about the Canary Isles, though, some of your thoughts might start to cloud with images of sunburned Brits, dodgy fried food and all-things tacky.

It’s time to set aside these anachronisms about the Canary Islands and explore these seven isles in the spirit of Christopher Columbus, who famously stopped over, en route to sailing off the map of the known world in search of the New World.

For a little bit of everything: Tenerife

The largest of the Canaries is also the most popular with tourists. The parched southern strip of Tenerife might be stuffed with a swathe of tourism development, but this string of resorts is just one part of a diverse and remarkable island. Most island inhabitants live elsewhere and although the Costa Adeje has added a touch of class to proceedings in the south, Tenerife’s most interesting towns and sights lie beyond this tourist enclave.

Head north and you’ll find a lively carnival that takes over the capital Santa Cruz de Tenerife for three weeks in February. Push inland and pine forests soon give way to the jaw dropping Teide National Park, home to the eponymous volcano, Spain’s highest peak at a whopping 3718. Then you can swirl in superb seafood and excellent wines in picturesque towns like Garachico and La Orotava. Last year also saw the island’s first ever walking festival recognise its top-notch hiking. Tenerife is the Canary Island with it all.

Spain, Canary Islands, Tenerife, Parque Nacional del TeideTeide National Park

For wind-sport lovers and beach bums: Fuerteventura

The second largest of the Canary Islands lies less than a hundred kilometres away from the African coast and is one of the least developed. Fuerteventura is a parched desert-like escape whose east coast is the main attraction, where the shifting sands of Corralejo and Jandia blown in on the Saharan breeze.

Corralejo, in the north, is the stand out resort. Here British families mix – in a resort that is also a real Spanish town – with locals, surfers and windsurfers from all over the world. There are little tapas bars, fancy restaurants and proper beaches right in town. Jandia, in the south, is more popular with German visitors. The main resort Morro Jable is home to an epic 4km beach, but beware there are stretches where clothes are most definitely optional.

Elsewhere on Fuerteventura you’ll find volcanoes to climb, little whitewashed inland villages and the delicious Majorero cheese, best enjoyed grilled with a little palm honey.

Spain, Canary Islands, Fuerteventura, Playa de SotaventoPlaya de Sotavento

For a spread of landscapes: Gran Canaria

The “Continent in Miniature” tourist office epithet for this neatly round island is, for once, no hyperbole; Gran Canaria offers more scenic diversity than any of the other islands.

There are the epic sands of Maspalomas in the south, the subtropical forests of the interior, rugged mountains and, in Las Palmas, the most beguiling of the island capitals with its buzzing nightlife and sandy beaches. Gran Canaria is a big hiking destination, too, with a network of well-marked trails and a walking festival. The island also produces decent wine and the excellent Tropical lager – perfect to end a long hike.

Sunset on Gran Canaria, Canary IslandsSunset on Gran Canaria

For the cool Canaries: Lanzarote

The youngest of the seven main islands, stylish Lanzarote is also the most aesthetically pleasing – largely thanks to one man. César Manrique was a visionary architect who stamped his creative architectural style (which has echoes of Gaudi’s Modernista movement) on myriad local projects, as well as fighting doggedly to stop high-rise buildings being built. Lanzarote-born, he spent most of his life on the island and created a legacy that visitors can learn more about at his old studio home, which now houses the César Manrique Foundation.

Volcanic activity has also led to a unique viticulture that sees delicious Malvasia grown in the island’s volcanic craters. You can visit the handful of well-kept wineries to pick up discounted bottles or enjoy them in the rich spread of restaurants that have made the island popular with foodies.

Elsewhere you’ll find an otherworldly volcanic escape in Timanfaya National Park, while the island of La Graciosa is a laidback road-free hideaway. Lanzarote’s most attractive resort is family friendly Playa Blanca in the south, with the main attraction the famous white-sand beaches that give it its name.

Spain, Canary Islands, Lanzarote, La GeriaVines growing in La Geria

For jaw dropping scenery: La Palma

It is no wonder that the most northwesterly of the isles is known as the “Beautiful Island”. The entire island has been declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve for its swathe of remarkable scenery: some parts are dramatically volcanic and others lush rainforest.

The scenic highlight is the Caldera de Taburiente National Park where the finest views of the archipelago can be seen from Roque de los Muchachos at 2396m. You can drive most of the way up and then ramble around this volcanic mound on foot. The capital, Santa Cruz de la Palma, is an attractive historic bolt-hole on the ocean that is well worth a day or two of exploration.

Spain, Canary Islands, La PalmaUp in the clouds above La Palma

For world-class hiking: La Gomera

Arriving on a ferry from Tenerife’s southern resorts, San Sebastian de la Gomera feels like another world. (You can catch ferries from La Palma and El Hierro too.) You’ll want to get your walking boots on: mountainous La Gomera is less of a beach escape and more suited to those looking to get away from other tourists and enjoy the myriad hiking trails.

The island’s routes really are spectacular, with a well-marked trail network snaking out across the whole of La Gomera. The local wine is spot on too, as is the Almagrote, a spicy cheese paste that is highly addictive.

Spain, Canary Islands, La Gomera, Garajonay National Park,Garajonay National Park

For a total escape: El Hierro

This semi-mythical island is the hardest to get to and the least well set up for visitors. It is where Columbus said goodbye to Europe and it still feels a deeply dramatic place, all sheer cliffs, rugged hills and twisting roads. Nature is at its rawest on this Canary Island.

You won’t find bustling resorts with raucous pubs and clubs here. Instead, come for the great diving or to indulge in some serious soul searching. If you crave solitude and want to escape modern life, then El Hierro is the Canary Island for you.

Spain, Canary Islands, El Hierro, La Restinga, lava fieldsLava fields, La Restinga

Getting around: Ferry companies Armas and Fred Olsen, plus local airline Binter, offer connections between all the islands.

Billy Connolly famously said that “there are two seasons in Scotland: June and winter”. Yet anyone who loves walking in this hauntingly beautiful country knows that even the weather can’t spoil the bleak majesty of its ancient landscape. It’s the rain, wind, sleet, snow, sun and constantly changing light bursting from vast, shifting northern skies that make walking in Scotland so magical. And you don’t have to bag a single munro to reap its rewards either…

Glen Tilt, Blair Atholl

One of Scotland’s lesser-known glens, this magnificent walk begins at the Old Bridge of Tilt, a hint of many ancient stone bridges hunkered in widescreen landscapes to come. This is Big Tree Country, populated by the tallest trees in Britain. Stay in a Scandinavian-esque woodland lodge on the Atholl Estates, which has been visited over centuries by everyone from Mary Queen of Scots to Queen Victoria.

Sandwood Bay, Sutherland

Bleak and lunar-like, this bracing hike is punctuated by glimpses of the lighthouse at Cape Wrath on the horizon. Here, at the exposed north-western tip of Scotland, the rewards are great and hard-won. Sandwood Bay is one of Britain’s most inaccessible beaches, flanked by a skyscraping sea stack – a ruin said to be haunted by the ghost of a shipwrecked seaman – and sand dunes the size of houses. It’s perfect for wild camping, if you can face carrying your gear in and out of the boggiest of moorland. Make sure you go for a pint and plate of langoustines.

Sandwood Bay, Sutherland, Scotland - walking in Scotland

Castle Tioram, Ardnamurchan

Ardnamurchan, the most westerly point of Britain, is a slender calloused finger of a peninsula pointing outward to wild seas. For a varied walk through coastline, heathland, moorland and woodland, begin on the banks of Loch Moidart where Castle Tioram, a ruin raised on a rocky tidal island, presides. Meander along sections of one of the Highlands’ most beautiful paths, the Silver Walk, then head into the heather-clad hills, passing lochs, reservoirs and pretty much every marvel of nature that the the area has to offer.

Glen Etive, Glen Coe

The most dramatic of Scotland’s glens, featured in Skyfall, is just as powerfully experienced by walking through its valleys rather than up the giant backs of its mountains. In one day you’ll encounter snow, hail, sleet, rain, the brightest of blue skies and a white-out on this long, consistently jaw-dropping hike. The deer on the steep flanks of the surrounding mountains were so far away they looked like ants on a hill. A walk to end all walks, in all weathers. Stay at the Red Squirrel campsite, make a fire and pour a whisky.

Glen Coe, Scotland, UK - walking in Scotland

Kyle of Durness, Sutherland

Stand on the tip of Faraid Head, surrounded by nothing but the squall of seabirds and wide open seas, and you’ll feel you’ve found the very edge of the island of Britain. As long as you don’t mind sharing it with an MOD training facility. A remote, surprisingly gentle walk, criss-crossing vast dunes and grassy headlands, happening upon some of the most stunning white-sand beaches you’re likely to encounter anywhere in the UK. Don’t bother seeking paths. This is about dawdling, stopping to pick up shells, and paddling in the coldest and clearest of waters.

Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

Robert Louis Stevenson described the extinct volcano forming Holyrood Park as “a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design”. The views back across Edinburgh, the Scottish Parliament, Leith, the Firth of Forth and out to the Bass Rock are fabulous. There’s no need to climb Arthur’s Seat either. Circle the crags, wander the paths, and take refuge with the dog walkers in Hunter’s Bog. It’s extraordinary enough to find hillwalking like this in a capital city. Afterwards, go for a pint at Swedish hipster bar Hemma.

Aerial view of Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland - walking in Scotland

Necropolis, Glasgow

East of Glasgow‘s old cathedral lies one of the great Victorian cemeteries, a reminder written in 3500 stone monuments, many of them crumbling away, that this was once the second city of the empire. Explore the city on a dark day under low skies, the way many would say is best to enjoy the cheek-by-jowl views of the Tennents brewery, high rises, grand civic buildings, and all that gives Glasgow its burnished beauty. Finish up at Glasgow Green’s West brewery, located in an ostentatious Victorian carpet factory, with a beer brewed on site.

Luskentyre Sands, Harris

Luskentyre may just be Scotland’s most beautiful beach. The silver sands and aquamarine seas with views out to the North Harris mountains make you feel as though you’ve swapped the Outer Hebrides for the Maldives, freezing temperatures aside. It’s a park your car and stroll through the dunes affair but arriving on the vast stretch of sands, often empty save the odd wild pony, you feel like you’ve stumbled upon one of nature’s great secrets.  The journey lives up to the destination: narrow winding roads passing crofts, cottages and one of the most beautifully situated graveyards you’re likely to come across. If one must die, this is the place to wind up. Stay at the Neolithic-inspired Blue Reef cottages.

Luskentyre, Isle of Harris, Scotland, UK - walking in Scotland

Mull Head, Deerness, Orkney

This is the furthest point of Deerness, on the eastern tip of mainland Orkney, and it feels it. It’s all coastal grassland, boggy heath, vertiginous sea cliffs, and bird calls carried by raging winds. Begin at the brilliantly named Gloup, from the old Norse ‘gluppa’ meaning blowhole: a great chasm of a collapsed sea cave that will make you dizzy. Pick your way around the headland and seek out the ruins of a Norse chapel reached by steps cut into sandstone with only a rusty chainlink rail to guide you.

Rothiemurchus Forest, Cairngorms

One of the greatest short walks in the Highlands. Rothiemurchus is a remnant of the original Caledonian forest stretching from the Spey river to the Cairngorm plateau. It’s also home to Loch an Eilein, one of Scotland’s most beautiful bodies of water, an enchanted mirror reflecting slender, ancient pines. Stay at the off-grid Inshriach bothy, complete with a reclaimed library ladder and a shower delivered by a bucket on a string.

Explore more of Scotland with The Rough Guide to ScotlandCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Tasmania has shaken off its reputation as a sleepy backwater. Australia’s smallest state is buzzing with art, nurturing an exciting foodie scene and cutting the ribbon on new hiking trails – all against a backdrop of rich history and remarkable wildlife. Here, Anita Isalska gives ten reasons why you should give in to the island’s lure. 

1. To be awed and appalled at MONA in Hobart

A ferry ride up the peaceful Derwent River doesn’t seem like the obvious start to explore your dark side. But in the subterranean galleries of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art you’ll find some of the most confronting creations in Australia. Passion, death and decay are explored in unflinching detail in this controversial museum in the northern suburbs of Tasmania’s capital, Hobart. Test your limits with maggot ridden installations, X-rated sculptures and obese automobiles, all from the private collections of arty eccentric David Walsh.

Australia, Tasmania, view of Hobart from Mount Wellington

2. To raft the Franklin River

Quicken your pulse in Tasmania’s wild west on a white water rafting adventure. In this glacier carved terrain, thick with Huon pine forests, experienced guides will navigate you down the frothing Franklin River. You’ll stop to cook on open fires and pitch a tent under the stars. There’s nothing like being part of a crew paddling a raft through the Franklin’s thunderous rapids to instil a lasting respect for Tasmania’s formidable wilderness.

3. To meet Tasmanian devils

Tas’ most famous critter is most often experienced through its nocturnal scream. But Tasmanian devils can be seen up close at sanctuaries across the state, like Bonorong. Don’t be fooled by their puppy-like appearance and lolloping gait. Time your visit for feeding time and you’ll see these marsupials screech, squabble and chomp straight through wallaby bones. On a more serious note, make sure you spare some time to learn about the devastating facial tumour disease threatening these Tassie natives.

Tasmanian devil sign

4. To feast your way around Bruny Island

Mainland Aussies flock to the annual Taste Festival in Hobart. But you can undertake a year-round gastronomic extravaganza on Bruny Island, an easy day-trip by ferry from Hobart. Start by slurping fresh oysters at Get Shucked, before perusing the unctuous delights of Bruny Island Cheese Company. You’ll want a bottle or two to accompany those garlic-marinated, vine leaf-wrapped delights, so stop for pinot noir at Bruny Island Premium Wines. Finish off with jams and ice creams at the berry farm.

5. To explore the wilderness at Cradle Mountain

The silhouette of Cradle Mountain, reflected in mirror-clear Dove Lake, is one of Tasmania’s greatest natural icons. Lace up your hiking boots in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and discover Pencil Pine Falls or the neck-craning Ballroom Forest. Some are easy wooden walking trails that spiral around picnic spots like Wombat Pool; others vertiginous hikes that require experience. For hardened adventurers, there’s the six-day Overland Track.

Dove Lake. Cradle Mountain. Tasmania. Australia. : Stock Photo View similar imagesMore from this photographerDownload comp Caption:Dawn reflections on calm fresh water lake. Mist over mountain peak. Dove Lake. Cradle Mountians. Tasmania. Australia. Dove Lake. Cradle Mountain. Tasmania. Australia.

6. To pace the brand-new Three Capes Track

One of Australia’s most hotly-tipped new attractions for 2015 is the Three Capes Track. Due to open in November 2015, this 82km coastal trail promises a touch of luxury for bushwalkers. Instead of stooping under the weight of your camping gear, you’ll be able to bed down in furnished huts at three different spots along the track and make use of on-site cooking facilities. That leaves more time to focus on what’s really important: jaw-dislocatingly good views of Australia’s tallest sea cliffs.

7. To see pint-sized penguins in Bicheno

Each night at dusk, a parade of little penguins pops out of the waters of Bicheno Bay and waddles ashore to their burrows. A guided walk is the best way to admire these dainty seabirds without disturbing them. They’ll hop between your legs, preen their inky black coats and jab their beaks at toes (don’t wear open-toed shoes).

8. To admire gorge-ous views near Launceston

Stomach-plummeting views await at Cataract Gorge, just 15 minutes’ drive from Tasmania’s second city, Launceston. Tiptoe over the suspension bridge or enjoy a bird’s-eye view of forested hillsides from the longest single-span chairlift in the southern hemisphere. Picnic spots are scattered around the gorge’s First Basin (and stalked by curious peacocks), ideal for you to soak up some rays and the tranquil atmosphere.

Australia, Tasmania, Launceston, Cataract Gorge,

9. To explore dark history at Port Arthur

Two centuries ago, a ticket to Australia was a terrible fate. The most harrowing final destination was Tasmania’s Port Arthur, one of Australia’s 11 penal colony sites. Port Arthur was thought inescapable: only a narrow band of land, Eaglehawk Neck, connected it to the rest of the island, and this was fiercely guarded by dogs. Today, Port Arthur has been conserved as an open-air museum. You can explore the former prison wings and convict-built chapel, board a boat to the lonely graveyards on Isle of the Dead and linger for a ghost tour if you dare.

10. To bliss out at Wineglass Bay

There’s an unforgettable reward for taking a steep forested trail on the Freycinet Peninsula on Tasmania’s east coast. At the Wineglass Bay overlook, you’ll see a perfect arc of sand glowing against the vibrant turquoise of the Tasman Sea. Cool off from all that bushwalking with a dip or kayaking trip, or simply gaze out over the dusky pink granite boulders dappled with lichen, one of Tasmania’s most surreally beautiful sights.

Explore more of Tasmania with the Rough Guide to Australia or our Tasmania Snapshot. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Rough Guides writer Helen Abramson discovers the ups and downs of the Annapurna Base Camp trek in Nepal – all without the help of a porter or guide. 

Something wasn’t right. I generally like to think of myself as physically fit. In fact, a doctor told me that was the case. I was convinced. Yet two days into the Annapurna Base Camp trek, every time I took a step up or down, my thighs hurt like the fires of hell. And up or down, it seemed, were the only options; flat surfaces were hard to come by.

I was mentally preparing a sternly worded letter for said doctor, in which I pointed out that his assessment was irrefutably and woefully incorrect.

Annapurna at dawn from Chhomrong – Annapurna Basecamp TrekImage by Helen Abramson

A few weeks earlier, my boyfriend and I had arrived in Nepal in the October peak season (the other being April–May), the day after the tragic storms that killed at least 43 people, of which 21 were trekkers, in the Annapurna Circuit region. We were filled with thoughts of those affected by the catastrophe as we travelled to Pokhara, the tranquil yet touristic lakeside town used as a base for the thousands of trekkers who pass through the Annapurna Sanctuary each year.

The Annapurna Base Camp Trek (also known as the ABC route), however, was sheltered from the storms and thus unaffected. We decided to tackle this 7–10 day hike without a guide or porter, carrying all the luggage we’d need in 45-litre backpacks.

This route, mostly inaccessible to vehicles, winds through prayer-flag strewn hamlets dotted around the lush valley of the fast-flowing Modi Khola River. It’s overlooked by the domineering peaks of Annapurna (8091m) and Machhapuchchhre (6993m), meaning “Fishtail” for its distinctive summit. The paths undulate almost constantly by way of seemingly huge and endless steps carved into the earth.

Snow-capped rocks leading up to MBCImage by Helen Abramson

“From mossy jungle to snow-speckled expanses”

Perhaps the swift pace of our first day had something to do with my aching legs, but speed was getting us nowhere on day two. We were unquestionably lost. The map had led us astray, indicating a path that didn’t exist, and extending our walking time to Chhomrong by around 2.5 hours and – most concerning for me – involving an awful lot more stairs.

The scenery changed dramatically as we increased altitude, from verdant stepped-farm hillsides, mossy jungle and misty autumnal woodland, up to rocky creeks peppered with waterfalls and finally to snow-speckled arid expanses.

“Golden sunlight spread majestically over the distant peaks”

We walked between four and seven hours each day, rising at icy-cold dawn to startlingly deep-blue skies and watching the golden sunlight spread majestically over the distant peaks before it hit us and warmed our freezing bones. Clouds usually rolled in late morning, bringing rain and slippery ground, which I over-acquainted myself with one afternoon after I slipped and landed on my back, limbs flailing like an upturned turtle.

Although this was a firm reminder that we needed to remain alert and careful, especially without a guide and in light of the recent tragedy, we were reassured that we would never be alone for long – we passed by dozens of hikers each day. In fact, sometimes it felt like too many. Though the area is remote, the number of trekkers in peak season means the only way to feel isolation is by going off the beaten track, and for that you need a guide. However, we were glad to be able to set our own pace and choose where we stayed the night, and (despite our second-day detour) keeping to the trail without a guide was relatively easy.

View of the valley (day 1)Image by Helen Abramson

We quickly became over-familiar with the menus at each teahouse, which were all identical, as they are set by the government, along with the prices. The variety of food, nonetheless, was astonishing. Even at the highest-altitude stops you could order a whole range of foreign dishes, though Nepal’s national dish, dal bhat, a plate of rice, soupy lentils and simple veg curries – all refilled until you say stop – was usually the safest best.

“Among the highest summits in the world, it’s hard not to feel humbled”

Our fourth and coldest night was spent at Machhapuchchhre Base Camp (MBC; 3700m), before the final ascent to ABC. We struck out on the increasingly snowy ground before dawn under a dazzling starry sky, our pace slowed by altitude-affected heavy steps and shortness of breath. We made it to ABC by full light, in a basin surrounded by a ring of glorious peaks.

With a 360-degree view of some of the highest summits in the world, it’s hard not to feel humbled; I could have stayed there all day. Sadly, that wasn’t an option, as we didn’t feel up to staying overnight as high as 4130m, so before long it was time to begin the descent.

View of Annapurna from near Ghorepani (day 2)Image by Helen Abramson

Due to the rise-and-fall nature of this trek, the last few days were not short of uphill climbs. Despite myself, I actually began to look forward to these, as, to my horror, descending increased the burn in my legs even more. After returning through Chhomrong the route split, and we were able to take in new scenery on the other side of the valley. This meant a stop at Jhinu, where natural hot springs in serene surroundings by the gushing river were a blissful answer to our aching muscles, although getting there required walking down and back up – you guessed it – hundreds more stairs.

On our seventh and final day we gradually re-entered civilization, passing through larger villages where life focused on more than just sustaining passing-by trekkers. We met a farmer who guided us down a perilously steep final section before we hit the road near Tolka.

As we bid the mountains a sad farewell, I felt a huge sense of fulfilment – and a touch of pride at gaining a pair of rock-solid legs – after a surprisingly gruelling trek.

Explore more of Nepal with the Rough Guide to NepalCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Co-author of the Rough Guide to India, Nick Edwards, explains why the trekking in Ladakh is among India’s finest.

Ladakh is quite unlike any other region of India, both geographically and culturally. A rugged and arid high-altitude desert, set between the mighty Karakoram and Great Himalaya ranges, its very name means “the land of high passes”. It is blessed with spectacular mountain scenery that contrasts with the cultivated ribbon of green surrounding the Indus River, which winds westwards through Ladakh from its source on the Tibetan Plateau.

The majority of people in India’s most sparsely populated area, the Mahayana Buddhist Ladakhis, live in and around the picturesque capital of Leh, itself located at a heady altitude of 3500m. Leh is the place where almost all visitors arrive, whether by air or road transportation, and is the best place to acclimatise. Wherever you decide to explore from here, there’s no doubt this is the prime trekking area in the Indian Himalaya. Here, we outline some of the highlights.

It’s rich with unusual wildlife

Having more in common with central Asia than the rest of the subcontinent, the region is blessed with some unusual creatures. Grazing animals such as the nimble ibex, the Tibetan wild ass and endangered Tibetan antelope, as well as various species of wild sheep and goats, can all be spotted on the craggy slopes or patches of rolling grasslands. One of the most adorable sights is the local marmot, often seen ruminating beside the trekking paths.

In the unlikely event you come in winter, you might be treated to a rare sighting of the majestic snow leopard, while the shaggy domesticated yak is a ubiquitous presence at any time of year.

There is also a perhaps surprisingly impressive diversity of birdlife, from the hoopoe and the Tibetan snowcock to the lammergeier and the golden eagle, with some resident species and others that migrate north from India for the summer.

Yak at Nubra Valley Leh Ladahk India

The hospitality is unrivalled

Despite often surviving at subsistence level, the Ladakhis have a reputation for hospitality and an innocent mixture of pride and good nature. The women are especially photogenic in their traditional dress, which they almost all wear: a thick woven kuntop robe, colourful shawls, plus elaborate jewellery and the unique perak hat perched above their braided pigtails.

You are guaranteed a warm welcome wherever your wanderings take you, and there is a constantly-developing network of homestays around Leh and along trekking routes, which will increase your contact with the locals and directly benefit them economically.

The monasteries are astonishingly picturesque

One of the most characteristic images of Ladakh is of scenic whitewashed monasteries balanced precariously atop craggy peaks at angles that sometimes seem to defy gravity. These atmospheric spots have been unbroken places of worship for over a millennium and are especially lively during their annual festivals. Many offer basic but unique accommodation but even if you don’t stay, they are worth visiting at any time.

There is nothing quite like sitting on your own in the main prayer hall, always a riot of colour with painted thangkas, murals and statues, and listening to the mesmeric chanting of a lone monk, or chancing upon a ceremony involving cacophonous percussion and rasping horns. Among the star monasteries are Tikse, Hemis, Spitok, Lamayuru and Alchi, which contains some of the most highly acclaimed murals in the world.

Monastery, Leh, Ladakh, India, Asia

There is something for everyone

One of the beauties of trekking in Ladakh is that you can easily choose a length of trek to suit the time you have available and the power of your lungs and leg muscles. You can do anything from fairly low key hikes over two or three days, between Leh and some of the surrounding monasteries, to something more ambitious.

Further up the scale, the five-day trek between Alchi and Lamayuru is bookended by those famous monasteries and offers splendid views of the Indus Valley. Alternatively, the six- to eight-day Markha Valley circuit, tucked below the impressive Stok-Kangri massif, contains various topographies and altitudes, while experienced wilderness seekers will be attracted by the ten- to twelve-day marathon across the Zanskar Range between Lamayuru and Padum.

Pangong Lake, Ladakh, India, Asia

It has the perfect climate

As Ladakh is untouched by the monsoon and there is very little precipitation throughout the year, it offers dry trekking conditions and superb views almost all the time. This is particularly true of the main summer season from June to September, when the rest of India is covered by the rains. During these months daytime temperatures can easily exceed 20ºC, although you should bear in mind that the mercury can plummet to below zero at the higher altitudes at night, even in summer, and that snow flurries often occur even in August on the higher passes.

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

Few countries boast such impressive natural diversity as Morocco. From its balmy coastline to the remote landscapes of its interior, the country offers visitors everything from relaxed beach breaks through to mountain escapes. Yet trekking in Morocco remains the highlight for many. Beginners will enjoy gentle forays into the Atlas Mountains in summer, while tacking some of Africa’s toughest terrain in the depths of the snow-ravaged winter presents a serious challenge even to experienced hikers. Morocco rewards every traveller that explores its vast valleys and peaks. Here, we’ve picked seven of our favourite treks.

Jebel Toubkal

North Africa’s highest peak, Jebel Toubkal vaults 4167m into the heavens in the Central High Atlas, dishing up views that more than reward the effort of trawling up there. This quasi-mythical mountain is the most eulogised peak in the country and it well-deserves the praise heaped upon it. In summer it is an adventure that most reasonably fit people can tackle in two or three days from Imlil – altitude sickness, sunstroke and dehydration permitting – and the Kasbah du Toubkal is an ideal base that lies at the trail start. In winter, when the trails are thick with snow, Toubkal is an even more serious beast requiring specialist gear and skills. For an exhausting but exhilarating challenge, there is also the Toubkal Circuit, a gruelling trek that takes around a week to complete.

Mount Toubkal, Atlas Mountains, Morocco, Africa

Jebel Saghro

When the snows make the High Atlas tricky, the mountain range of Jebel Saghro offers beautiful wintry landscapes but with fewer challenges. A continuation of the Anti-Atlas, it has slightly milder temperatures and trails that are usually still passable without the same level of difficulty as Toubkal’s snowy wastes. The highest peak, Amalou n’Mansour, is much lower than the High Atlas peaks, at 2712m, so the risk of altitude sickness is generally less of a problem. The local cave paintings are a bonus.

M’Goun Massif

The traverse of the M’Goun Massif in the Central High Atlas need not be as taxing as taking on Toubkal if you avoid ascending the high peaks such as M’Goun itself (4071m). This lets you spend more time savouring the drama of the mountain scenery and valleys that are home to the local Berber tribes. The area is at its best in late spring with carpets of wild flowers and dramatic snow-melt rivers in valleys like the Ait Bougmez and the Tessaout. If you’ve got a week to play with, you can enjoy exploring the lower slopes and valleys, or use your time to acclimatise properly and tackle M’Goun itself.

Morocco, Atlas Mountains, Alan Keohane (c) Dorling Kindersley

Jebel Sirwa

The Anti-Atlas is a much less heralded mountain range than the High Atlas and lies in the south of Morocco, but it still boasts a number of tempting peaks. Sirwa, a chunky 3304-metre-high volcanic mountain, actually connects the two ranges. From Atougha Mount Sirwa can usually be climbed in two days, though a guide is thoroughly recommended particularly for the potentially dicey final section. Alternatively, make a week of it taking time to ramble through the Berber valleys, with their steeply terraced fields, on a week-long round trip from Taliouine.

Rif Mountains

Morocco’s northern Rif Mountains are not as renowned as many of the country’s mountain ranges, but are a firm favourite with local walkers, especially families. Base yourself in Chefchaouen and myriad day trip options beckon. An ideal relaxed half day saunter is along the banks of the Ras el-Maa river. You can choose your duration, then just retrace your route or catch a taxi back. More difficult is the long day hike up Jebel al-Kalaa, which overlooks the town. For overnight hiking trips the Talassemtane National Park tempts.

Morocco, Middle Atlas, Ifrane, King's summer residence, set in dense cedar forest, dwarfed by mountains

Ifrane National Park

Nature lovers can indulge themselves in Morocco’s ‘Little Switzerland’ and its visual feast of flora and fauna in this expansive national park in the Middle Atlas. The Atlas Cedar tree-shrouded slopes here are at their best in spring and autumn. Look out too on the walking trails year-round for the Barbary Macaque – once found throughout North Africa, it’s now an endangered species and the Ifrane National Park is one of its last preserves.

Paradise Valley

Most visitors to Morocco don’t normally associate the coastal beach resort of Agadir with hiking, but the lush oasis of Paradise Valley is not far inland. This deep palm fringed gorge follows the river north up to Imouzzer Ida Ou Tanane 60km away. Those short on time can take the short (about 3km) walking trail from Imouzzer Ida Ou Tanane out to the ‘Cascades’ waterfalls. If you have more time you can hire a guide and mule to explore the valley’s Berber villages and camp under the stars.

Need to know
Robin’s key tip: always hire a professional qualified guide for your trail and personal safety. Don’t just grab one of the often unqualified guides that hang around the trails. Macs Adventure, a UK operator, employ only qualified Moroccan guides rather than ex-pats or uncertified locals, and they work closely with the pioneering Kasbah du Toubkal lodge, where your stay helps fund projects like local schools and ambulances.

Explore more of this country with the Rough Guide to Morocco. Compare flights, book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Alex Robinson goes in search of the elusive jaguars that live in the Corcovado rainforest, Costa Rica

The Corcovado rainforest is eerily quiet. But for the buzz of cicadas that crescendos past like a wave every few minutes, it’s as silent as a cathedral. I can hear drops falling onto leaves, the burr of a hummingbird’s wings. Then a roar cracks the spell – deep and guttural, huge in the empty air. And my heart leaps into my throat. Adrenaline floods my veins. My hands shake. A panicked blur of thoughts rush into my mind. “It’s a jaguar. My God. And it’s close. Which way’s the wind blowing?”

Before arriving in Costa Rica I’d thought of jaguars as innocuous creatures. A kind of languorous leopard, spending most of its life draped across a log, bleary-eyed and half-asleep. But then I went to San José zoo and saw one in the flesh. Its paws rippled with as much muscle as a heavyweight boxer and its head was as big as mine. It looked at me with great green eyes, filled with contempt. ‘Just let me out,’ they goaded, ‘and we’ll see who’s the dominant species.’ Then it yawned and licked vast, razor sharp chops. ‘Jaguars’, said the plaque, next to the cage, ‘have the strongest bite of any big cat. They can crack a skull like an egg.’

And now one’s downwind of me. It can smell my fear. I lurch into action and run up the path, splashing through the mud, camera swinging madly, and nearly collide with Juan, the Lapa Rios eco-lodge guide. He’s looking through binoculars up into the trees with all the panic of a meditating monk.

Alex Robinson, Guide from Lapa Rios in the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, Central AmericaImage by Alex Robinson

“You OK?” he asks, startled by my muddy appearance. “Jaguar!” I yelp, “Didn’t you hear it roar?” For a moment, he’s puzzled. Then his face splits into a grin. “No jaguar amigo! Ees a howler monkey.”

He points up into the canopy and hands me the binoculars, elegantly shifting the mood away from my flustered embarrassment. And I see the monkeys – a family of harmless-looking, Bournville-brown things, about the size of spaniels. They’re chewing leaves. “They made the roar?” I ask.

On the way back to Lapa Rios, Juan explains. Male howlers have a bark far worse than their bite. According to Juan, humans could learn a lot from them. Imagine, he says, if all we had to do to defend our territory was to gather battalions together at our borders and collectively yell at each other. Most howler battles amount only to this. They do come to blows, but only very, very rarely.

Alex Robinson, Osa Peninsula, Costa RicaImage by Alex Robinson

As day drifts into twilight, the forest seems peaceful again. A brilliant blue morpho butterfly with wings as big as my hands floats past. The trees clear and I can see the white crests of waves splashing on the sand far below and the silhouetted shapes of swaying coconut palms. All is calm and beautiful and I muse on how privileged I am to be here – a little dot on the Osa peninsula, a thumb-shaped wedge of rainforest fringed on all sides by magnificent beaches and so remote it’s easier to fly here. The Osa is one of the last great islands of biodiversity in Central America and a success story for ecotourism. The region depends on lodges like Lapa Rios – my tourist money funds a local school, recycling programmes for lodge itself and the beaches and gives people like Juan a job. Juan is a guide. But his father was a hunter.

We reach the lodge as bats fill the air, whirring past as they chase insects. Coatis chatter in the bushes and a startled nightjar whips up from the path in front of us, swirling and swooping into the night. The dining room is a warm orange glow under the palm-thatch, the path to the rooms – which are perched on wooden stilts overlooking the Pacific – is lit with soft-white fairy lights. I’ve only been away on my hike for a few hours, but I feel like an intrepid explorer on a long awaited homecoming.

I shower, eat a delicious meal of lemon-marinated sea bream, washed down with ice-cold Argentinean Sauvignon Blanc and drift off to the music of the forest. There are jaguars out there somewhere. Thank God. Still thriving in this remote and beautiful corner of Costa Rica. I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad that seeing them is so hard. Tomorrow will be another sparkling bright sunny day, and a new adventure. I’ll be learning to surf those creamy Pacific waves. And hoping I don’t embarrass myself again – with fears about imaginary sharks.

Follow Alex Robinson on his website and on Alex Robinson Photographer. The Osa Peninsula can be visited with Journey Latin America on their Costa Rica Wildlife Holiday. Explore more of Costa Rica with the Rough Guide to Costa Rica. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

From ancient ruins to beautiful beaches, Cyprus has a multitude of incredible things to see and do. Whether you’re after a challenging hike, fancy some wildlife spotting or want to go diving, this sun-kissed country will deliver. Here are our top things not to miss in Cyprus.

Rough Guides editor Helen Abramson does what she loves most, seeking out adrenalin sports in the stunning Pyrenees region around the town of Sort, Catalunya.

The Pyrenees lend themselves well to outdoor activities. Sort, on the northwest tip of Catalunya, has a reputation as a handy base, where you’re never far from some of the best adventure sports this alpine region has to offer. I’m there with a mixed-ability group and immensely enthusiastic and well-informed guide, Isi, with a week to try out a selection of the best activities: hiking, whitewater rafting, kayaking, canyoning and mountain biking.

Taking a hike

Forty kilometres from Sort, I’m peering down from a viewpoint high above Sant Maurici lake, bright turquoise and shimmering in the autumnal afternoon sunlight. From here you can make out part of the treacherous route escapees from Nazi-occupied France took seventy-odd years ago, as they headed into Spain through the mountains. Now part of Aigues Tortes National Park, this region is popular for hiking, and it’s obvious why. The lake is enclosed by lush foliage, its verdancy deepened by an unusually wet summer, and slopes lead up to craggy domineering peaks. A relatively easy circular 3.5–4hr route involving a few scrambles, some narrow hillside traverses and a pleasant forest walk takes us past a gushing waterfall and offers breathtaking views. A pretty good start.

Pyrenees, Sort, Catalonia, SpainImage by Helen Abramson

Hitting the white waters

Our next activity takes us to the Noguera Pallaresa River for whitewater rafting with Roc Roi: 40km, grade 3 rapids, six happy paddlers and one guide. The river is dammed, and water is released at specific times each day throughout the year – ideal for rafting and kayaking. There are plenty of rapids to keep us occupied, including “the washing machine”, and one particularly wild section that knocks one of our crew out (mercifully, not me).

With everyone back on-board and the raft now in calm waters, we breathe a collective sigh of relief. Order is barely restored, however, when the guide, Seori (who happens to be a Scot living in Sort), calmly announces that the boat appears to be deflating. We’ve got a puncture. Fortunately, this is a slick, well-organised operation, and Seori and his colleague, who’s been following us all day in a minibus, swiftly extract the offending article: an enormous concrete boulder with rusty, vicious-looking metal poles sticking out of it. The boys put their training into practice, patching up the hole in just a few minutes, and we’re being ordered back on the boat with barely enough time for me to answer a call of nature behind the bushes. Half an hour later, and our vessel is swapped for a non-ruptured one. Everyone seems to have rather enjoyed the drama, and the scenery is, once again, jaw-droppingly lovely; in the quieter sections of the journey, there are plenty of contemplative, peaceful moments in which to savour it all.

The last section of the rafting route, with slightly gentler rapids, is where the kayaking takes place the following day. The 2014 Freestyle World Cup was held in July in Sort; as we’re not quite at that level, our group is given inflatable open kayaks, which are far less likely to capsize than regular ones. The guides use arm signals (imagine someone guiding an aeroplane on a runway) and whistles to point us in the right direction for a safe run down, and I spend the majority of the session struggling to get my boat in line and cursing my fellow paddlers for turning this into something very reminiscent of bumper-cars. It’s quite exhausting, but an entertaining ride nonetheless, and the adrenalin stakes are upped with a 15m jump into the water from the rocky shore above.

Abseiling through a canyon

Hell’s Canyon is next on the agenda. Not one for the faint hearted, this ninety-minute descent through luminous white limestone walls – with only one way in and one way out – is a non-stop rollercoaster ride involving several abseils and jumps into cool, crystal-clear water. Heavy rain in recent months means there’s more water gushing through the canyon than normal, so, as the ever-charismatic Isi puts it, with a huge grin on his face, the conditions are ripe for “the most fun”. The first abseil is small and swift, over a relatively gentle incline, and ends in a refreshing pool.

Things heat up with an 18m abseil from where this canyon gets its name: a descent into a black hole in absolute darkness, down through water cascading so loudly I can’t hear myself think. For a moment I’m not sure how I’m going to get my next breath, but then I’m down and standing in the pool below, looking up at the shaft of ethereal light streaming in at the top, and it’s just magical. After several more descents and a thrilling 10m jump, it’s time to be reborn: an awkward abseil leads to a water-filled hole, through which Isi has to pull each one of us out, head first. It’s not elegant. We are spat out at the river, and there are cries of protest at not being allowed to do the whole thing again.

Cycling in the Pyrenees, Sort, Catalonia, SpainImage by Helen Abramson

Traversing on two wheels

For a change, we’re out of our wetsuits the following day and on dry land, as downhill mountain biking is our final activity. The route starts 1800m above sea level, in the Baqueira / Beret ski resort, one of the top – arguably the best – in Spain, yet for some reason somewhat under-the-radar for foreigners. The 35km cycling trail descends 1200m, with a few small uphill sections thrown in, so it’s not a complete free ride for the legs. The landscape is as picturesque as it gets: grazing cows jangling their bells, distant peaks looming through a gentle haze, bright greenery all around, and a rest-stop at a tiny mountain hamlet, with a ninth-century church, a single cobbled street and a collection of ramshackle houses that look as if they may crumble at any moment. With such intoxicating views and exhilarating trails, it seems a shame for this journey, and the whole trip, to end.

Sort has proved itself a more than worthy base for rambling through the mountains, floating downriver on inflatable vessels, squeezing through canyons and speeding downhill on a bike – all in beautiful surrounds. Plus if the dozens of spider-like people clambering up craggy overhangs are anything to go by, it’s not bad for climbing, too.


Helen travelled on Explore’s eight-day Active Pyrenees tour. The tour costs from £1097 per person, to include return flights; hotel accommodation on a bed and breakfast basis; some other meals; transport and the services of a tour leader and driver. For further information, or to book, visit or call 0844 499 0901. 2015 tours depart June–September.

Britain is without doubt a nation of dog-lovers, and as such it’s a fab way to see the country; you’d be surprised by how easy it is to get chatting to people when you have a hound in tow. As publisher of the UK travel site Cool Places, Martin Dunford has spent some time seeking out the best places to stay, walk, eat and of course drink with dogs. Here are some of his top tips for holidaying with the hound in Britain.

Dog-friendly digs

The Castle Hotel, Shropshire
It’s not only the warmth of the welcome from Millie, the hotel’s resident dachshund, that makes me love this place, it’s also the air of no-fuss country comfort throughout, plus the fact that it’s in such a beautiful part of the country.

Rose & Crown, Durham
In the heart of some fabulous walking country, this traditional old coaching inn is not only a great place to eat but a fine place to stay – and they’ll welcome the pooch too.

Bull & Swan, Lincolnshire
On the edge of the Burghley estate in the elegant market town of Stamford, this is another place where you can stay and eat as well, with a downstairs restaurant that serves good, hearty food and comfy upstairs bedrooms that have a room service menu just for dogs.

russells, Jan 2011

Russell’s Clapton, London
Not everyone’s cup of tea perhaps, but you’re in the heart of trendy East London in this fab boutique B&B, and they love dogs, including their own rather handsome whippet.

Kittiwake Cottage, Devon
Of course there are plenty of self-catering places that will accept pets. I mention this one because it is particularly nice, accepts dogs, and is right on the Southwest Coast Path, which ought to make you and your hound very happy indeed.

Where to walk

Winterton-on-Sea to Horsey, Norfolk
A favourite walk of mine, not only because it takes in the glorious dog-friendly beach and dunes at Winterton, but also because whichever way you do it you can end up at a dog-friendly pub – the Fisherman’s Return in Winterton or the Nelson Head in Horsey.

Holywell Bay to Crantock, Cornwall
This six-mile walk near Newquay is not only a wonderfully scenic stretch of the Southwest Coast Path but also connects a trio of fabulous dog-friendly beaches.

Holywell Bay to Crantock, Cornwall

Aldeburgh to Walberswick, Suffolk
A glorious coastal walk that you can either do in an easy one-day hike or as a series of shorter strolls. Again, the nice thing is the pubs on the way – the Ship at Dunwich and the Anchor in Walberswick are dog-friendly, and the latter has comfortable rooms for both you and the pup. As does the excellent Westleton Crown, which which requires a slight detour.

Ogmore-by-Sea to Nash Point, Wales
This 14-mile stretch of golden bays, Jurassic rocks and limestone cliffs is a show-stopping part of the mighty Wales Coast Path. You’ll definitely need a pint and bowl of water for the dog on the way, so be sure to detour at the fourteenth-century Plough & Harrow in Monknash for local ales and fantastic home-cooked pub grub.

Hungry like a wolf?

George & Dragon, West Sussex
A foodie pub if ever there was one, with high-end gastropub fare that draws people from miles around, but one that’s still a proper pub, used by locals and welcoming to that essential feature of the British boozer – dogs.

Mason’s Arms, Devon
The hub of life in Branscombe, serving great food and drink to hungry locals and tourists alike, and very welcoming to dogs, who can usually be found making themselves comfy in front of the main bar’s roaring fire.

Mason’s Arms, Devon, England

Mulberry Inn, Surrey
DJ Chris Evans owns this country pub with rooms in Surrey, and very nice it is too, with great food and lovely rooms upstairs – all of which will only be enhanced by the presence of your four-legged friend.

Cornish Arms, Cornwall
We were worried when this place was taken over by the ubiquitous Stein empire, but actually it just means the food got better – otherwise it remains a proper pub, serving great local ales and with dogs more than welcome at all times.

Bull & Last, Hampstead, London
Yomping on the Heath? It won’t be complete without a visit to the wonderful Bull & Last to share a Scotch egg with your hound.

Pig’s Nose Inn, Devon
There are great walks to be had around this iconic south Devon boozer. Plus they serve a wide range of local ales and do great pub grub, which includes a menu just for dogs.

 With the holiday cottage company Marsdens, Martin has also put together an interactive map of the best dog-friendly places in the southwest. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

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