From a deserted town to enormous sand dunes and sunset cocktails above the city, here are ten unforgettable things to see and do in Namibia.

Hike Fish River Canyon

Second only in size to America’s Grand Canyon, Namibia’s Fish River Canyon is one of Africa’s unsung wonders. Starting just south of Seeheim, it winds 161km south to Ais-Ais and plummets to depths of 550 metres. Watching the sun rise and set over its layers of sandstone and lava is epic, but fit travellers can up the adventure by attempting one of southern Africa’s greatest hikes: a 85km five-day trek along the riverbed. Talk about off the beaten track.

Explore the deserted diamond-mining town of Kolmanskop

Rise early and drive 10km east of port town Lüderitz to watch the first fingers of sunrise reach across the desert and light up the sands that have piled up high and inhabited every nook of this once-thriving town. The honey-toned beams reveal peeling wallpaper in empty kitchens, ceramic bathtubs waiting forlornly for a filling and empty picture frames dangling from unsteady nails. Pay a little more for a photography pass: it allows you to enter early and beat the tour-group crowds so you can explore this ghost town with soul in peace.

Slurp local oysters in Walvis Bay

Forget springbok steak or biltong, Namibia’s culinary highlight is its homegrown ultra-fresh oysters. Thanks to the cold Benguela current that sweeps up the coast from Antarctica, the nutrient-rich waters means these pearly beauties can be harvested in just eight months instead of the three years it takes to grow French oysters. Join a boat tour to visit the nurseries and nibble them onboard, or order a platter with a glass of chilled white wine at a dockside restaurant.

Climb Sossusvlei

Namibia’s foremost attraction doesn’t disappoint. The sand dunes inside Namib-Naukluft National Park are some of the highest in the world and seeing them light up at sunrise is a sight that shouldn’t be missed. Sossusvlei is in fact only one dune, but the name is often used to collectively describe a handful of others. The most photogenic are the 170 metre-high Dune 45 and Deadvlei, whose dried up clay basin is punctuated with the sculptural silhouettes of long-dead acacia trees.

Explore the remote Caprivi Strip

Few tourists venture northwards to visit this narrow finger of lush land that juts out into Botswana, Zambia and Angola – those that do will be rewarded. The landscape is dotted with rondavel huts, roadside stalls selling fruit, and women in colourful clothes going about their daily business. Plus, two of the region’s national parks – Mamili and Mudumu – are becoming good safari destinations.

Safari in style inside Etosha National Park

Etosha translates as “Great White Place” – an apt description for this endless pan of silvery salt-encrusted sand, which is all that remains of a large inland lake that stood here 12 million years ago. Come dry season, its southern waterholes attract elephant, giraffe, zebra, eland, blue wildebeest, thousand-strong herds of springbok, and even the endangered black rhinoceros. A handful of luxury resorts have views over the pan, so the game viewing can continue long into the night.

Meet the Himba in Kunene

The barren, mountainous landscapes of the northern Kunene region are home to the Himba people – a semi-nomadic, polygamous tribe famed for wearing ochre-stained dreads and copper-wire bracelets. A number of tour companies will run visits to traditional villages, but a more rewarding (and perhaps ethical) way to meet the Himba is to base yourself in Opuwo, a vibrant little town, and wander for more candid interaction with the locals. From here you can also organise visits to Epupa falls.

Feed cheetahs in the Kalahari

Seeing wild cheetahs on safari is unforgettable, but at times viewings are no more than a glimpse of spots. For an up-close encounter, book to stay at Bagatella Kalahari Game Ranch: attached to the property is a 12-hectare enclosure belonging to the Cheetah Conservation Fund and it’s home to three orphaned cheetahs – Etosha, Rolf and Tuono – that are being rehabilitated for release. Seated safely aboard an open-sided Jeep, you can watch their caretaker dole out the evening feed (four kilos of meat each) then enjoy a sundowner atop the famous red dunes.

Find shipwrecks on the Skeleton Coast

This otherworldly strip of coastline earned its named from the treacherous fogs and strong currents that forced many ships onto its uncharted sands. Hemmed in by the high, searing dunes of the Namib Desert and lack of fresh water many sailors perished here. Explore the rusted hulls of stranded ships, marooned whale ribs and kilometre-long stinky seal colonies.

Party on the roof in Windhoek

Namibia’s capital is a city on the move. Take in the sights while sipping a cocktail and watching the sunset at the brand-new Hilton hotel’s Skybar – a rooftop bar complete with heated infinity pool and panoramic vistas overlooking Independence Avenue and the Supreme Court. It’s the perfect way to toast your Namibian adventure.

Get more inspiration from Rough Guides here. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

A bus ride through the Ladakh Range, India

Whether you love travelling by planes, trains or automobiles, we all have fond memories of at least one particular journey from our travels. We asked you to tell us the best journeys you’ve ever completed, so here are a few of your rather impressive adventures. Intrepid traveller @ukirsariabroad took an overnight bus from Manali to Leh in India, a beautiful mountainous journey through the stunning Ladakh Range.

Cycling through South America

An incredible continent no matter how you travel, South America is as diverse as it gets. Lucky Lynne Roberts (@oops_herewego on Twitter) cycled across the continent, as well as Central America and southeast Asia, for two years with her husband.

Exploring the Amazon by boat, Brazil

There may be no better way to experience the Amazon than by floating down its waters, surrounded by mysterious jungles on each side. Our Twitter follower @nphorton spent four days on an Amazon riverboat, "sleeping in hammocks and watching storms".

Walking in the Mongolian Gobi Desert

Certainly not the fastest way to traverse the Gobi Desert, but probably one of the bravest. We’re rather impressed by Twitter follower @FarazShibli’s 1600km trek across this vast Mongolian landscape.

Sailing to the Corn Islands from Nicaragua

Sitting 80km off the Nicaraguan coast, it’s a long, three-day sail across the Caribbean Sea to the idyllic Corn Islands. Rough Guides reader Bee Barker shared her sea-faring journey with a boat full of pigs – most likely made worth it by the sight of bright, white sand beaches upon approaching the islands.

Driving mopeds from Vietnam to Cambodia

It takes a certain level of fearlessness (or perhaps it’s stupidity) to brave the Vietnamese roads on a moped: around 14,000 die each year as a result of traffic collisions. However, a few of our followers have taken to the tarmac on two wheels for the most exhilarating journey of their lives – and lived to tell the tale.

Driving from Las Vegas to New York City, USA

There are so many routes you can choose to travel from Vegas to the Big Apple, taking in Monument Valley in Arizona, the snow-topped mountains of Utah, or the urban jungle of Chicago. Rough Guides reader Josephine Turner said it was one of the best journeys she’s ever taken, and gave this advice: "Lesson learned: if stopped by police don’t get out of car!" It sounds like there’s a story to tell there…

Trundling through Sri Lanka’s Hill Country

As @allyrambles said on Twitter: "Eight hours on a train trundling up into Sri Lanka’s tea plantations is pretty special!" There is no better way to escape the humid city of Colombo than taking this train up to Kandy or Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka’s lush northern Hill Country.

Taking the train from Nairobi to Mombasa, Kenya

A rather indecisive Twitter follower named the Nairobi-Mombasa railway (among others) as one of their favourite journeys. Stay in a First Class sleeper for less than £40 (US$65) and enjoy a three-course dinner and drinks as you pass through Tsavo West National Park, in hope of spotting one of the big five along the way.

Exploring India’s Golden Triangle

A favourite among many of our followers, the journey around the Golden Triangle in India takes in some of the country’s most impressive sights by bus or train. Enjoy the chaos of Old Delhi before moving onto explore Jaipur’s stunning Amer Fort, and then bask in the glorious bright, white marble of the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Taking the Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia

Over 6000 miles, from Moscow to far-eastern Russia, and passing through some beautiful scenery and remote towns and villages, the Trans Siberian Railway is the journey of a lifetime according to our Twitter followers.

Driving along the Icefields Parkway, Canada

Winding its way through two national parks, the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rocky Mountains was a highlight for many of our readers. It’s essentially 232km of snow-topped peak and pine eye candy.

Riding the Rocky Mountaineer, Canada

Foregoing the driver’s seat, one Twitter follower opted to see the Rocky Mountains on one of the country’s most popular attractions: the Rocky Mountaineer. The railway passes through the mountains, and as you sit on the top deck you can enjoy panoramic views of the beautiful landscapes whizzing past thanks to the glass roof.

Climbing Machu Picchu, Peru

A trek through history, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a tough and challenging hike, but worth it according to our readers, who were bowled over by the stunning views of this ancient civilisation.

Cycling along the Danube, Europe

From its source in Germany to Black Sea in Romania, the Danube Cycle Path was top choice for @bringurownball on Twitter. It gets busy in the summer months, but the beautiful surroundings you’ll pass in Austria, Hungary and Serbia make up for any two-wheeled congestion.

Escaping the hundreds of climbers on their way to Machu Picchu, Alex Robinson discovers the “other Inca Trail” in Peru – an equally impressive but near-empty climb. 

I woke with a start in the night. The dogs were barking in the camp. I heard the clatter of tin cans, the crash of plates and then frightened shouts from one of the guides.

“Es un oso!” Did I hear that right? A bear? My heart thumped. I thought of the millimetres of canvas between me and the forest, and the chocolate bar under my pillow, its sugary sweetness seeping into the mossy odours of the night. There was a muffled, deep guttural growl. Then more frenetic barks and human yells and something heavy lumbered swiftly past my tent. I heard a tearing of branches. The dogs quietened down. Silence.

Image by Alex Robinson

Had it gone? I lay awake, wide-eyed. Or was it waiting? Five minutes. Ten minutes of silence. Nothing. Fear turned to wonder. I knew our camp was remote, but a spectacled bear, native to the Andes, was so rare it was almost mythical – as hard to find as a snow leopard. Somehow it had found our tourist camp – on an Inca trail, leading to a ruined city high in the tropical Andes.

Our trail didn’t go to Machu Picchu. The only wildlife you’ll see en route to that Inca city are high soaring raptors and the occasional viscacha (a rodent) by the wayside – looking like a stoned rabbit and squeaking alarmingly before rushing off into the bushes. There are just too many hikers on their way to Machu Picchu. But we were going to the Inca city of Choquequirao, and in the six nights we’d been on the trail we’d seen just two other walkers, panting as they descended out of the swirling mist from one of the numerous high passes.

Image by Alex Robinson

The scenery was magnificent, a trail running along a river had taken us past a string of minor Inca sites and high into the hills. We’d clambered up stone steps that wound into mountains and descended into thick cloud forest dripping with lichens and mosses and so silent you could hear the buzz of humming bird wings. We’d played football in a tiny Quechua village on a pitch cut flat from a steep Andean spur. We were a novelty there, not “gringo” tourists. And we’d dropped and climbed through deep valleys watched over by towering peaks that hid behind wispy clouds before revealing themselves in blazing reflected sunlight.

And though I may not have witnessed more than the broken plates and wrecked food containers that were left in its wake, I’d now experienced a spectacled bear. It was the last morning before we’d reach Choquequirao and over breakfast all of us were buzzing with excitement about the bear, and anticipation of our arrival. The internet is flooded with images of Machu Picchu, but a Google search of Choquequirao brings far fewer pictures. But those I did find had been dreamily spectacular when I first saw them, and now the city was just over the next ridge.

Image by Alex Robinson

It took us the whole morning to climb it, and much of the early afternoon to wind down the path on the other side. Choquequirao wouldn’t reveal itself. A dense fairytale-esque forest of gnarled, lichen-covered trees blocked out every view. The boulder-strewn path twisted and turned for kilometres. Finally, off to the right I caught a tantalising glimpse of buildings, rounded another corner and the forest opened onto a view of stone houses, and a sweep of terraces. We dropped further and cut past an unmistakably Inca wall – a jig-saw of organic lines formed by the slotting together of huge rocks.

The guide wouldn’t let us enter the city. Instead he ushered us past and onwards up another steep path to a high viewpoint. And then we saw Choquequirao in her slendour. At our feet was a grassy green plaza cut out of the face of a vast mountain spur swathed in forest. Off to the right scores of terraced fields dropped into a steep valley cut deep by the rushing blue-water Apurimac – a tributary of a tributary of a tributary of the Amazon. It was so far below that my eyes were dizzy with vertigo. But I could hear its roar echo up the mountain walls. Behind Choquequirao was a distant, serrated edge of snow-covered mountains. They momentarily revealed their faces through drifting cloud which cleared and paused, then swirled, covering the mountains once again from view.

Image by Alex Robinson

We stood in silence for more than an hour, spellbound as we watched the light shift and change as the sun sank into the valley at our backs, honeying the city stone warm yellow. The sky faded into glorious pink and purple and finally turquoise blue as the sun set, casting its dying rays onto the distant snowfields.

For two days we explored Choquequirao, losing ourselves in its silent ruins, in its meditative views and on paths cutting into the surrounding hills, and for those two days we had the city to ourselves, before leaving it behind us and taking the dusty path up through the valley to a town a bus and finally Cusco.

We’d been ten days away by the time we reached that city and its crowds of travellers – most of them on their way to Machu Picchu. Few had even heard of Choquequirao. But they will soon. Peru plans to build a fast road link from Cusco and a cable car across the Apurimac valley. Come before they do and walk the trail. The other Inca trail.

Journey Latin America  offer trips to Cusco including treks to Choquequirao. Explore more of Peru with the Rough Guide to Peru. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Following in the footsteps of the late explorer and travel writer Sir Wilfred Thesiger, Rough Guides writer Anthon Jackson takes to the back of a camel across the Danakil Depression, in pursuit of Lake Abhe Bad on the Ethiopia-Djibouti border. 

Just after dawn on our fourth day in the dusty frontier town of Asaita, Go’obo, my translator from Addis Ababa, popped his head into my mosquito-net tent, shaking me awake. The heat of the Danakil already had my forehead covered in sweat. “The camels are gone!”

That’s right, I remembered, with just a touch of alarm: we own camels now. I scrambled out of the tent and rushed after Go’obo to find the beasts we’d acquired just the day before after lengthy negotiations in Asaita’s rag-tag camel market. We rounded a corner onto a dirt road and there they were, hobbling with half-tied legs, hovering awkwardly over the tiny shops that were just opening up – causing a bit of a scene. We’d have to learn to tie their legs properly for our trek into the Danakil.

By Anthon Jackson

The mastermind behind our eastern Ethiopian expedition was David Lewis, an old friend from the road. He’d recently written his thesis on the ever-inspiring Wilfred Thesiger, a fellow Oxford alumnus. At the end of his life, the legendary explorer maintained that the most dangerous journeys of his life were those in the Danakil. In his Danakil Diary, he conveys his many encounters with the Afar, a fearless and resolutely fatalistic people long feared throughout the Horn of Africa. A well-known Afar adage goes, “it is better to die than to live without killing.”

David’s plan was to purchase a pair of camels, stock up on supplies in Asaita’s famed Tuesday Market, then head off the grid, hiring some local guns along the way. The goal: to trace Thesiger’s route to Lake Abhe Bad, the terminus of the Awash River, spending some time among Thesiger’s beloved Afar, for whom one of the most desolate and inhospitable places on earth remains home sweet home.

Three days from Asaita we reached the Boha River. Its banks were buzzing with life as goats, cows and camels waited to cross the crocodile-infested waters. Long-haired, sharp-toothed Afar herdsmen huddled in acacia shade drinking tea and breaking ga’ambo (maize bread), most eyes fixated on us, the ferengi (white people). A few of the toughest men swam across with camels in tow, buoyed by jerry cans. The rest of us packed into an old rusted boat, weighed down with burlap sacks, stacks of reed mats and sweating boys falling over the passengers as they pulled us across by a rope connecting the other side.

Once across, we sat beneath a cluster of acacias with a promising Afar trio. We hoped they might be the ones to escort us through the lawless wilds ahead. Muhammad and Tur were both young and fit, “essential flesh and bone” as Thesiger had described the Afar, and much friendlier than the other candidates we’d met along the way. The third was much older, promising to contribute wisdom and an insider’s knowledge of our route.

After shaking hands on the new fellowship, we never saw the old man again. Muhammad and Tur, however, proved essential to the expedition. Each was as confident with camels as anyone in these parts, and carried next to nothing.

In the spirit of traveling light, Tur only carried a single bullet for his old gun. Upon discovering this a few days further into the trek, Go’obo asked how he’d handle one of the rumored Issa (Somali) raiding parties (soon to become more than rumor). Easy, he said: just line them all up in a row.

A few days further along we saw the glimmering strip on the southern horizon that was Lake Abhe Bad. Sticking to Thesiger’s route rather than beelining to the lake, we circled the volcanic mass of the Dema’ali Terara mountain, passing through a blackened wasteland where jagged rocks drew blood from our camels’ feet. Talk of Issa raids to the south, hippos on the banks of the Awash river, hyenas on the slopes of Dema Ali and a fierce “demon government” that ruled the area kept things interesting.

The morning of our final march to Lake Abhe Bad, David’s watch thermometer passed 40°C by 8am. A few hours later it was well into the 50s, and our water was running dangerously low.

By Anthon Jackson

Finally Abhe Bad came into view again, this time to the east. The Djibouti shoreline was a faint watermark on the horizon. We paused to take in the view Thesiger once traveled so far to see. Then, like a mirage in the distance, a small patch of date palms came into view over a rocky ridge. The faint sound of rushing water became too loud to deny.

Soon the camels were lapping up from the Awash and our crew was stripping down to bathe in a flurry of streams that cascaded into pools beneath the shade of date palms.

Perhaps a bit delusional after our long trek in the soaring heat, it seemed as though we’d found lost Eden, the end of the world, a momentary quenching of that yearning for exploration and adventure which Thesiger had so relished throughout his life.

A cluster of aris and stone huts a few hundred metres north of the palms was the village of Harissa, our home for the next week among the Afar of the Danakil.

Asaita is the jumping off point for exploring the southern Danakil’s salt lakes. Permits must be secured in Semera in order to travel beyond Asaita.
Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. All images by Anthon Jackson

Our green and boggy isle may be small, but one thing’s for certain: it’s home to some of the most magnificent landscapes in Europe, if not the world. Sure, our much lamented climate means you’ll likely get a soaking or three (four if you’re in Scotland), but with everything from coastal strolls to fearsome scrambles, British boots were, surely, made for some serious walking.

Hadrian’s Wall Path

From the suburbs of Newcastle to the Solway Firth, Britain’s most iconic Roman monument doubles as perhaps its most compelling long-distance path, marching some 84 miles across northern England’s most bracing and barren terrain. Sure, you’ll need some imaginative licence in places but enough stones remain unturned – and forts excavated – to project the rather ascetic lot of a second-century legionnaire, blistered feet no doubt included.

West Highland Way

As Scotland’s inaugural long-distance path, the 95-mile West Highland Way did much to raise the profile of the hiking opportunities on Glasgow’s doorstep. It’s a rites-of-passage trek that segues beautifully from city suburbs to the forests of Loch Lomond, the desolation of Rannoch Moor and the drama of Devil’s Staircase, eventually winding up near the foot of Ben Nevis: all in all, a perfect introduction to the Scottish Highlands. In high summer, though, it’s also a potentially not-so-perfect introduction to the dastardly Highland midge. Forget that repellent at your peril…

Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall

You likely won’t see any lizards on this Cornish peninsula (the name rather has its roots in the native tongue), but you will breeze through some of Britain’s most spectacular coastline, complete with exotic subtropical plants, rugged caves and exquisite coves, and an endlessly churning sea. And though it makes up a mere fraction of the marathon six-hundred-mile South West Coast Path you could happily spend days exploring its serpentine nooks and filmic crannies.

Wester Ross, Scottish Highlands

Since Monty Halls turned his back on the twenty-first century in favour of the simple life as a crofter in The Great Escape, the coast of Wester Ross has become as popular with would-be escapees as its mighty Munros have long been with hill-walkers and climbers. While both Applecross and the Loch Torridon settlements of Shieldaig and Diabaig all make great bases for some gloriously scenic and relatively easy-going sea walks, the ancient, fortress-like peaks of Torridon itself, not least the twin-pronged bulk of Liathach, the famous horns of Beinn Alligin and the gleaming, quartzite-crowned massif of Beinn Eighe, offer some of the most dramatic ascents on the British mainland.

Helvellyn, Lake District

It’s not the highest peak in the Lake District but it can still stake a claim as the most romantic, with a capital “r” or otherwise. Beloved of Wordsworth, Wainwright and generations of walkers, England’s most popular mountain is a study in contrast, its summit flat enough to land a plane and its deceptively named western arête, Striding Edge, sharp enough – terrifyingly so – to evoke the Sublime in even the most hardened scrambler.

Wessex Ridgeway

A different kind of ridge entirely from the arêtes of Lakeland, if no less steeped in history, this archaic highway has been chalking up foot traffic for centuries, threading as it does into an old Devon to Norfolk trade route. Its 137-mile course passes through some of the loveliest landscapes in southern England – think intimate woods, hidden valleys and open downlands with views that go on forever – taking in Avebury’s stone circles, the fringes of Salisbury Plain and ancient droving trails in Hardy’s Dorset, en route to the chalk giant of Cerne Abbas and the coast.

Tryfan, Snowdonia

It may slop and squelch under some of the heaviest rainfalls in Britain, but Snowdonia is hard to beat. Its serrated, slate-lined peaks cater for a range of abilities, yet it’s also home to the only mountain on the British mainland that demands scrambling as part of the main ascent: regal Tryfan. The famous north ridge route in fact pans out far less intimidatingly than its razor-like fin suggests from the ground, but once you reach the summit – and leap the five-foot gap between the iconic Adam and Eve rocks – you’ll feel like a true mountaineer.

Southern Upland Way, Borders

The Scottish Borders are perhaps still more identified with horseriding than hoofing it, but this coast-to-coast, Irish to North Sea odyssey – 212 miles in total – may one day change that. And while the dome-like hills of the Southern Uplands mightn’t match the Highlands for drama, they more than match them for sheer remoteness – chances are you’ll have your trail to yourself, even in summer. If you don’t fancy hiking the full hog, the thirty-odd-mile Moffat to Traquair stretch makes for an evocative sampler, encompassing the ancient remnants of the Ettrick Forest, St Mary’s Loch and the splendours of Traquair House.

South Downs Way

Cradling a hundred-mile swathe from the historic city of Winchester to the spectacular white cliffs of Beachy Head, this clement landscape of ancient woodland, open heath and chalky downs may lend itself more to rambling, cycling and horseriding than hardcore hiking, but its recently awarded national park status reflects a rural charm wholly distinct from Britain’s remoter corners. Tackle it from west to east to take advantage of the prevailing wind, and the psychological appeal of finishing at those vertiginous cliffs.

Stanage Edge, Peak District

A kind of Peak District Table Mountain in miniature, the four miles of gritstone cliff that make up Stanage Edge have been scaled since the nineteenth century, while the surrounding dry-stone dykes, historic buildings and emaciated moors have been sewn into England’s cultural and literary landscape for much longer. Various walks take in the famous escarpment, most conveniently setting out from the village of Hathersage. Whichever route you take, though, you’ll be rewarded by spectacular views, not to mention the haunting debris of long-abandoned millstones and the hair-raising sight of people inching up the Edge’s profusion of iconic climbs – you may even be tempted to don a hard hat yourself.

Make The Most Of Your Time In Britain includes 500 great British experiences – find out more.

Hiking through rain, wind and (eventually) sunshine, Rough Guides writer Ken Wallingford discovers a too-often forgotten island where straying off the beaten path is the only way to trek. Here’s an account of his journey on Colonsay, Scotland.

As the ferry from Oban approaches Colonsay, a hazy ceiling of mist hangs over our heads. Beyond the coastline a rugged and hilly landscape disappears into a livid sky making it impossible to decipher what’s beyond the grey houses clumped along the shore.

On a map, Colonsay is so small it’s hard to spot. The 40 square-kilometre piece of terrain is a blip compared to the better-known Hebridean isles like Jura and Islay. For adventurers and tourists, the destination provides respite, inspiration and a world of choose-your-own adventures. A population of 130 permanent residents allows for plenty of space to cultivate the land, and each corner of the island offers more to discover. For botanists, history-buffs and trekkers, everything is accessible by bike and foot, and while guided tours are available in the summer, we prefer to choose our own route.

Photo by Peter Gawthrop via Flickr Creative Commons

Within an hour of landing ashore, we’re biking north past a long lake and rolling hills dotted with grazing sheep before reaching the island estate. Surrounded by woodlands filled with eucalyptus and palm trees, and rhododendrons of fuchsia and red, the Colonsay Estate also houses fruit and vegetable gardens. Through the summer the isle’s only hotel restaurant uses the bounty of the gardens to design their seasonal menu.

Further along the main road we come to Kiloran Bay, an expansive beach surrounded by more green hills dotted with sheep. We inspect the area for the mysterious caves we’re told exist here, but have no luck finding them—the tide, perhaps, is too high to spot the mouth of the cave. We’re completely alone here, and I only realise the beauty of that fact when I’m later told that even in the height of the summer you’ll rarely cross paths with other tourists on any of the numerous beaches.

Farther north we search for mountain goats. Only a small band of them exist on the island whose ancestors are said to have arrived here via a sixteenth century Spanish shipwreck. Spotting them from among the sheep isn’t hard as their horns stand erect instead of curling in a loop.

Photo by dun_deagh via Flickr Creative Commons

We face more of Colonsay’s wildlife the next day when we spot several seals basking on rocks by the one kilometre-long beach on Ardskenish, a finger-shaped peninsula in the south west. We take our bikes across an eighteenth century golf course and leave them leaning on a weathered wooden fence, before climbing over a rocky cliff down to the beach. It’s low tide, so we slip out on wet rocks and seaweed to spy on the seals as they alternate between basking in the sun and sliding into the water to cool off. They radiate contentment and I yearn for the same.

On our third day, we head south across the Strand, a kilometre-and-a-half walk across a sandy isthmus connecting Colonsay to Oronsay. It’s from the hilltop on this tiny landmass where we spot the farmlands where corncrakes and choughs breed and wild flowers grow. At the base of the hill, we wander through some of Colonsay and Oronsay’s oldest ruins, a fourteenth century Augustinian stone priory.

It’s a clear day and we can see the mountains of Islay and Jura rise out of the ocean to the south. The view is hard to part from, but since the Strand can only be crossed within two hours of low tide, we hurry back.

Photo by Ken Wallingford

It’s while crossing over when we spot, for the first time since arriving here, the beehive boxes. There are about 50 colonies of the legally-protected British Black Bees throughout the island, and with the lack of chemicals used in farming here, untouched wildflowers (normally destroyed by factory farming) thrive, giving the honey the bees produce a unique taste with hints of lavender and thyme.

It’s not until our last day, shortly before our departure, when we taste the honey at the Pantry café. The small restaurant sits slightly uphill, apart from the other businesses (the microbrewery, the bookshop, art gallery, and convenience store) in the port village of Scalasaig.

We sit down at the café for a bite of berry crumble drizzled with a thick layer of local honey. With the first spoonful of dessert I fall in love with the taste of the honey. By the second, I’ve sold my soul, or at least I’ve bought a precious gold-filled jar. I’ll bring it home and cherish it for months, a sweet reminder of a tiny island that’s too often forgotten.

Explore more of Scotland with the Rough Guide to Scotland. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Featured image by Ken Wallingford.

The Grand Tour

Any well-bred young gent in the 1600s–1800s was likely to go on the Grand Tour after university. The Tour, a sort of cultural gap year, took in much of continental Europe. The usual route ran through France and Switzerland and into Italy, with a return trip taking in Germany, Holland and any other countries the young man fancied. The essential stop to complete any cultural education was Rome, still an incredible destination for anyone interested in art or history.

The Tokaido road, Japan

This ancient road, once walked every year by feudal lords and their retinues forced to pay respects to the shogunate in Edo (modern-day Tokyo), is now a high-speed train route. You can be whisked from the high-tech wonders of Tokyo to the ancient imperial capital of Kyoto – nearly 300 miles – in a couple of hours. Not bad when you consider it would take the feudal lords more like a week to complete.

Western America

In 1843 Lewis and Clark set off from St. Louis on an epic journey to find a route through the Western half of America. Vital to their success was Sacagawea, a native Shoshone woman who accompanied them and acted as interpreter and occasional guide. The route they took is today called the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, extending over 3500 miles and passing through 11 states and several national parks, including the impressive Yellowstone.

Route 6, North America

Though Route 66 is more well-known, it was Route 6 which captivated Jack Kerouac. In On the Road he wrote of his dream to travel "that one great red line across America." It didn’t quite work out, and the book records his many wanderings across the continent, but the romantic ideal of finding a road and sticking to it is still very much alive for many travellers – even if Kerouac ended up thinking it a "stupid hearthside idea."

The route to Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Perhaps one of the most-travelled journeys in the world is the Hajj. In fact, this pilgrimage can have a lot of different routes, but they all end in the same place: Mecca. As one of the five pillars of Islam, every Muslim who is able to do so must complete the Hajj at least once in their lives, leading to the world’s largest gathering of Muslim people taking place in Mecca in the month of the pilgrimage.

Southwark to Canterbury, England

Chaucer’s famous Canterbury Tales are the stories told by a group of pilgrims on the route to Canterbury cathedral. Famous tales include the Knight’s Tale, the Miller’s Tale and the (slightly saucy) Wife of Bath’s Tale. The Southwark to Canterbury route is still viable today, even 600-odd years after Chaucer wrote the Tales. The pilgrimage ends at the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral, a chance to see some of the medieval world for yourself.

Up the Mekong River, Southeast Asia

Though made famous by the Vietnam war film Apocalypse Now, the journey up the Mekong really isn’t that scary. In fact, it can be the core of a truly excellent trip – the river runs through China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, taking in some of the great civilisations and landscapes of East Asia on the way. Though you may not want to recreate Captain Willard’s journey, a boat trip is well worth trying.

Southern and central Africa

Doctor Livingstone spent years searching for the source of the Nile. Though he ultimately misidentified the site, he did end up exploring huge swathes of south and central Africa including the great Lake Tanganyika – it may not be the source of the Nile, but it’s still an impressive sight.

Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia

Unquestionably one of the most famous rail journeys of all time, the Trans-Siberian is also the world’s longest railway, stretching over 5700 miles from Moscow to Vladivostok. This epic route isn’t only for tourists and travellers; many Russians just use it as a way of getting from A to B. Nothing gives you a sense of the scale of this country by meeting someone on a casual trip to their grandma’s place, 3000 miles away.

Camino de Santiago, Spain

El Camino de Santiago is a major Christian pilgrimage, on which one of the most famous routes is the Camino Francés (‘French Way’). This path takes you on a month-long walk from the Pyrenees through the north of Spain to the grand Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia. The experience of taking in the stunning countryside and beautiful towns of this region at a gentle pace means that even many non-pilgrims find this a fulfilling path to walk.

Antarctica

In 1910, two separate expeditions set out for the South Pole. In the end Amundsen’s Norwegian team made it there first (late 1911) with Scott’s British team reaching the Pole five weeks later. Scott and his men died on the return journey, but there is no doubt that both groups earned their place in the history of exploration, and turned the eyes of the world to this spectacular frozen continent.

Around the world

Nellie Bly was a famous reporter, who circumnavigated the globe in 1889. On her travels she met Jules Verne, author of Around the World in 80 Days in Amiens, France. He reportedly said, "if you do it in 79 days, I shall applaud with both hands. But 75 days – that would be a miracle." She made it back in 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes. Round-the-world plane tickets make the trip a little easier for inveterate adventurers today.

Ionian Sea, Europe

In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus wanders the world after the fall of Troy, trying to find his way home to Ithaca. There’s disagreement about the modern-day locations of some sites; at one point he’s held captive by the beautiful nymph Calypso in Ogygia, which might now be called Gozo. It could also be in the Ionian Islands, Balearic Islands or even somewhere off the East coast of America. Whichever sunny island it is, there are worse places to spend a few years.

The Silk Road, Central Asia

An ancient trade route, the Silk Road runs from Syria through central Asia, ending in eastern China, and there are even some sea routes extending it into Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. The main overland route takes in some jaw-droppingly beautiful places whose history and culture have been shaped by the Silk Road’s trade; the beautiful, much-mythologised cities of Uzbekistan are just some of the wonders on the route.

The Galápagos Islands, South America

Although he travelled around the coast of South America and past New Zealand, Australia and South Africa on his five years aboard HMS Beagle, the most famous part of Darwin’s journey was in the Galápagos islands. Here, he noticed the small variations across species present on more than one of the islands, such as tortoises and finches. The rest is scientific history, and people still visit these stunning islands today to see the amazing range of wildlife.

The Atlantic

Though most famous for the round-the-world flight on which she went missing, Amelia Earhart completed a great many incredible journeys in her life. One of the most groundbreaking was her 1932 solo flight from Newfoundland to a small town near Denny, Northern Ireland – the first nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic by a woman. On landing, a local innocently asked her: "Have you flown far?"

Jordan, the Middle East

Gertrude Bell was a pioneering female explorer, cartographer, archeologist and diplomat. She travelled throughout the Arab world, one of the first women to do so, recording her experiences in books such as Amurath to Amurath and Syria: The Desert and the Sown. On top of this, she played a part in establishing Iraq and Jordan as self-determining nations. Follow in her footsteps by exploring the picturesque ruins along the Euphrates, visiting the ancient cities of Jordan, or learning seven languages.

Albania, Europe

Instead of the usual Grand Tour, Byron headed to the Mediterranean. He was particularly impressed by Albania – "thou rugged nurse of savage men!" – where he stayed for a time with the vicious warlord Ali Pasha. The trip inspired one of his greatest works, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, and the most famous portrait of Byron depicts him in Albanian dress. Albania today is well worth a visit, whether you visit that rugged countryside or the sophisticated capital of Tirana.

Indonesia, Asia

During his travels around Southeast Asia, Alfred Russel Wallace collected birds and insects to send back to wealthy collectors in Britain, studied natural history – oh, and came up with the idea of natural selection. In 1858, he published a revolutionary paper on evolution with Charles Darwin. He is perhaps most famous on the Indonesian island of Ternate, where he was based for several years; visitors today will easily understand what attracted him to the relaxed, green, occasionally lava-spewing island.

The Amazon, South America

The conquistador Lope de Aguirre is one of many who have tried to find El Dorado, the "City of Gold". His journey in particular is famous because it somehow wound up with him rebelling against the King of Spain, capturing Isla Margarita and eventually meeting a grisly end. Visitors today (hopefully more sane than Aguirre) can discover plenty of jaw-dropping places along the 4000-mile course of the Amazon river – perhaps even the mythical city itself.

Whether you want to keep fit while on holiday, or just explore new corners of the UK on foot, Jen and Sim Benson – authors of the new Wild Running: 150 Adventures on the Trails & Fells of Britain – have compiled their five favourite running routes in Britain. 

East Cornwall

The south east of Cornwall boasts a wonderful mixture of pretty fishing villages, beautiful beaches – take the three-mile sweep of Whitsand Bay – and the rugged South West Coast Path with its mile upon mile of fantastic running terrain. Following the gently winding River Fowey northwards brings you to the wide-open spaces of Bodmin Moor, punctuated with tors whose granite has been used for millennia to build the towns and villages nearby. A favourite run here takes in the stone circles of the Hurlers and the towering rock stack of the Cheesewring passes close to Golitha Falls, where the Fowey cascades down a spectacular wooded gorge.
Full run details at wildrunning.net/hurlers-cheesewring

The South Downs

The chalk hills of the South Downs extend from the
 Itchen Valley in the west to Beachy Head, near Eastbourne, in the east. Running across these vast, open chalklands on the fine, springy, close-cropped turf created by centuries of grazing is pure joy. We have run many great routes along the South Downs Way, a 100-mile waymarked trail from Winchester to Eastbourne. This National Trail is home to some fantastic races, including the South Downs Trail Marathon. A circular run passing Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters takes in the area’s dramatic chalk cliffs along with peaceful Friston Forest, also a haven for mountain biking.
Full run details at wildrunning.net/beachy-head-seven-sisters 

The Howgills

The quieter, wilder neighbours of the Lake District, Cumbria’s Howgill Fells lie just within the borders of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  Characterised by sweeping, grassy hillsides, craggy outcrops and rambling, stony trails there is a feeling of utter peace and tranquility here.  One of our happiest discoveries when researching for the book, this little-visited area is a true wild runner’s dream.  A fantastic 6 mile loop from Haygarth takes in Cautley Spout – nearly 200 metres of bubbling, tumbling waterfall – and The Calf, the highest point in this range of fells at 676 metres, finishing with an exhilarating descent into Bowderdale.
Full run details at wildrunning.net/the-howgills

Southern Snowdonia

The rugged mountains of North Wales are a perfect arena for walking, climbing and running, from the peaceful Rhinogydd to the high passes of the Snowdon Range. The classic, spectacular Glyder Ridge is an awe-inspiring run, with nearly 700 metres of ascent packed into the first 2 miles. Cadair Idris is a picture-perfect mountain, and home to the legend of Idris, the giant who dwelt here in Welsh folklore and whose great chair crowns its summit.  The run up the Pony Path and back is exciting, adventurous and exhilarating, taking you through some magical scenery with vast views out across the surrounding mountains, whilst being relatively straightforward to follow. Navigation may be challenging in poor weather.
Full run details at wildrunning.net/cadair-idris

Fort William & Lochaber

Fort William is something of a hub for outdoor enthusiasts. Runners, climbers, walkers and mountain bikers flock here
 to explore the wonders of the surrounding landscapes. The West Highland Way, home of the infamous ultramarathon, finishes here. The Nevis Range is startlingly beautiful, from the brooding form of Ben Nevis, its summit often obscured by swirling cloud, to the peaceful, golden valley of Glen Nevis with its cascading waterfalls, woodland trails and bracken-covered hillsides. A run around the shores of remote and serene Loch Ossian, inaccessible by road but a great run from Corrour Railway Station, is a gentler alternative.
Full run details at wildrunning.net/loch-ossian-loop

Runners and writers Jen and Sim Benson are passionate about exploring the wild places of Britain and finding the best places to run. Their new book Wild Running: 150 Adventures on the Trails & Fells of Britain (Wild Things Publishing) is available at £16.99 inc P&P from wildrunning.net.
Explore more of Britain with the Rough Guide to Britain. Book hostels for your trip and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Most visitors don’t venture beyond Tallinn, but leave Estonia’s capital behind and you’ll find a country of vast, untouched wilderness. a haven for wildlife and a place to escape from it all. Olivia Rawes gets back to basics to discover some of the wilder things to do in Estonia.

A congregation of jovial boozy stag parties cavorted along the aisle as our flight approached Tallinn. Wild yes – and with its fair share of animals – but not quite the wilderness I was seeking. Despite Tallinn’s status as a favourite stag do (bachelor party) haunt, the Estonia I was to discover had far more to offer than a boozy night out in a dinosaur outfit. In fact, it’s Estonia’s palpable wilderness, so highly prized by the locals, that draws many visitors here; it’s a country of expansive space, abundant wildlife and a sense of pristine isolation.

A quarter of Estonia is a designated nature reserve; seemingly endless stretches of bogs and meadows are interspersed with woodlands, which themselves cover half of the country and provide a haven for wolves, bears, lynxes and wild boars. Marshes and bogs envelope a quarter of the land, and are important nesting grounds and popular stop-over points for migrant birds. Combine that with a population of 1.3 million people spread across a country of 45,227 square kilometres and you begin to understand the extent of land left to its natural devices.

It was this sense of space and remoteness that first struck me when we went seal watching from Haabneeme, on Estonia’s northern coast. To the northwest, the country stretches out to meet the Baltic sea and the coastline is peppered with 1500 islands, many of which are uninhabited. One man lives alone on Aski island, while a number of mainland Estonians apply to be island guards in their holidays, staying for short stints to keep an eye on things.

Our destination was Malusi island, a protected breeding ground for seals; of the 30,000 grey seals that live in the Baltic Sea, around 300 can be found at Malusi. Drifting alone in the placid waters, the tranquillity was only interrupted by our boat’s iPod, which blasted out jolly leelo folk songs and catchy pop tunes, a bizarre yet effective way of attracting the seals. The Estonians discovered that seals loved music in the 1920s when violin-playing traders realised their boats were being followed by these curious critters. It appears that seals are not only curious but also cultured – Beethoven was a firm favourite on our trip.

But isolation and peace were not only to be found when floating alone at sea. Our next stop was Sooma, Estonia’s second largest national park, an area of rivers, brooks, bogs and woodland, that’s home to 185 species of bird including golden eagles, owls and storks, as well as a number of mammals. From a viewing tower we surveyed the park; reminiscent of an African savannah, the expanse of flat land below us stretched seemingly to the horizon, a mix of grasses and mosses in hues of rusty red, bleached beige and earthy brown, fringed on one side by tall forest. Streams cut across a landscape pockmarked with small lakes and dotted with ancient, stunted, spindly trees, that despite being 200 or so years old stretched only to waist height. Keen to explore, we donned our bog shoes; these strange pointy flippers are an essential to avoid sinking in the quagmire.

Feeling the height of fashion we waddled across the spongy wetlands bouncing on the oddly marshmallow-like mounds of earth and despite having become strangely fond of our new giant feet we swapped them for canoes to row down the slowly meandering Riisa River. The waters were low this year, restricting the canoes to rivers and streams; however, Sooma is famous for its great floods, a springtime phenomenon, where the water level rises up to four metres, creating what the Estonians refer to as the “fifth season”, when much of the park is under water, making it possible to canoe through flooded meadows and magical, waterlogged forests.

For all its pristine wilderness, Estonia is not all about the rural outdoors. Much to my relief, after a day battling bogs, rivers and seas, there was no shortage of comfort and style when it came to putting our feet up to refuel. And what better place for it than Pärnu, a favourite destination for spa retreats that has also repeatedly received the title of Estonia’s “summer capital”? A charming city of wide streets lined with pretty wooden houses, cocooned by a stretch of long, white sandy beach, which – as it was out of season – we found to be perfectly empty.  After roaming the quiet streets, we checked into Frost Boutique Hotel, a cosy yet achingly stylish place; in my room distressed-wood white-washed beams held up a lofty ceiling, plump pillows and a taupe crushed velvet bedspread transformed my bed into what felt like sleeping on a cloud, and downstairs a roaring fire and large flickering candles tricked us into whiling away the evening lounging with a glass of wine.

This sort of rustic charm meets Scando-cool seemed a theme in many of the hotels and restaurants we visited. A feeling that nature – pine wood furniture, washed-up shells, crackling fires and natural hues – was influencing the interiors. The food was a similarly intriguing mix that was inventive yet earthy, such as the intriguing basil ice cream at NOA, and ox with beetroot served with a surprisingly delicious moss at Cru. In most places we ate, what seemed to drive the meals was a pride in locally-sourced ingredients; organic produce in Estonia is not a trend but a core principle – many Estonians I spoke to still head to the forests to go mushroom foraging.

On our final day in Estonia, we returned to Tallinn to explore its UNESCO-listed old town. Set high above a medieval wall, it charms with its sloping cobbled streets, soft pastel painted buildings, red tiled rooftops, elegant spires and sweeping views across the city out to the harbour. That night, tucked away in Mull, a home restaurant decked out with kitsch style – the grandeur of candelabras and chandeliers gently offset by mismatched teacups and quirky trinkets – Tallinn felt worlds away from a stag party haunt and I realised that even in this bustling city, the sense of calmness and peace we had gained in Estonia remained.

Find out more about Estonia at visitestonia.com
Explore more of Estonia with the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

In search of more than just sun, sea and sand, Rough Guides writer Helen Ochyra takes a hike in Gran Canaria.

You know a place sees a lot of sun when the slightest whiff of rain brings the locals out in joyous dance. On this first morning in Gran Canaria we woke to a cloudy sky and by the time I wandered out onto the terrace for breakfast, that cloud had turned to rain. It was warm rain, but rain nonetheless.

While the locals call out to each other in sweet relief at this first rain in months, we chomp on omelettes and look out disconsolately at the drizzle. Today is our first day of walking in the island’s interior and we are due to reach 1715m. Normally, this would yield spectacular volcanic views, but today we will be walking in a cloud.

Our itinerary has been put together by Macs Adventure and the scheduled transfer to El Sao – quite literally the end of the road and where we will begin walking – will take our luggage on to the next hotel in Tejeda, a remote village clinging to the volcanic slopes that surround it, some 16km away. We are told it will take over seven hours to hike and so we waste no time in setting off, waterproofs at the ready.

This turns out to be a good move; the route is tough, with steep ascents on rocky slopes and near-vertical paths covered in lava grit. We walk across barrancos (ravines), through ancient evergreen forests and along grassy plateaus before reaching a gigantic lava field at some sixteen hundred metres. The black gravel beneath my walking boots reminds me of the black sand beaches the Canaries are perhaps best known for, but we couldn’t be further from those tourist hotspots, not just miles away at the island’s coast but seemingly worlds away in an entirely different destination.

As the mists swirl around us we walk on across the lava flow guided by well-placed stone markers. These are some of the very few visible signs of human contact with the landscape and they bring home how unspoiled this volcanic island really is. There are some dry-stone walls and fences that nod to the island’s agricultural economy, but all else around us is wild. That is, until we reach Tejeda.

Arriving in this tourist town comes as something of a shock after hours of wilderness but it is not an unpleasant one. The white towers of the traditional Canarian church poke their heads above the terracotta roofs of diminutive buildings, made to appear all the smaller by the soaring volcanic cliffs that rise above them.

This pre-Hispanic town is to be our base for the next three nights, and we settle in to our apartment at Hotel Fonda de la Tea to plan our next few walks. Tejeda is ideally located for walking up to Roque Nublo, the island’s most famous peak. This chunky monolith can be seen from most places on the island – but not today. I peer through the clouds in vain from the apartment balcony and wonder what else I have missed seeing today. What have those clouds been hiding?

The next morning the island hides from me no more – the scenery rushes to meet me as soon as I open my eyes. A brilliant blue sky has pushed the clouds aside and I am surrounded by volcanic splendour. I cannot wait to get out there and am on the trail within minutes, starting the ascent up to Roque Nublo with a spring in my step.

The climb is tough but the path is well-maintained, running through grassland and later woodland, with views back over Tejeda. The scenery is unlike any I have ever seen before. Bowl-like valleys thick with armies of pine trees run between craggy peaks that retain the violent beauty of the eruption that formed them. Beneath our feet are petrified lava flows, above our heads soaring eagles and in the distance a cloud-cloaked Atlantic Ocean with the peak of Tenerife’s Teide floating above it.

Squint and you might make out a coastal resort but from Roque Nublo most of the island’s mass-market infrastructure is hidden – and it remains hidden to us for the rest of our week. We pick our way along the Altavista ridge on an extinct volcanic caldera and compare the island’s barren south to its fertile north with a walk along the ridge between Tejeda and Pico de las Nieves, the island’s watershed. We see Roque Nublo from every angle, lose ourselves in vast pine forests and stand on what feels like the roof of the world, with craggy slopes running down from our feet to the ocean in all directions.

At the end of our week we will make it to that ocean. But we will look back at the peaks up which we have walked and smile at the memories of our discovery – that the Canary Islands are so much more than beaches and bars.

Macs Adventure offer seven-night walking trips to Gran Canaria from £625 per person, including accommodation, breakfasts, two dinners, baggage transfers and a detailed info pack.
Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
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