Way out in the cool North Atlantic Ocean, there’s a cluster of craggy islands inhabited primarily by sheep and puffins. The Faroe Islands are Scandinavia’s ultimate off-the-beaten-track destination. Here’s our guide to what to expect on your first trip to this remote archipelago.

What and where are the Faroe Islands?

Contrary to popular misconception, the Faroe Islands are not near the Antarctic nor are they somewhere in Portugal. In fact, this cluster of eighteen islands is situated roughly midway between Iceland, Norway and the northern tip of Scotland.

It’s an extraordinary landscape of sharp cliffs, sweeping glaciated valleys, narrow fjords and pointed basalt peaks that was formed when volcanic rock thrust up from the deep North Atlantic Ocean.

Since the sixth century, the Faroe Islands have been inhabited by Irish monks, Viking settlers and an awful lot of sheep. Today, it’s home to 49,000 people and is a self-governing nation – part of the Kingdom of Denmark – with its own parliament, flag and language, a booming fishing industry.

Image by Ros Walford

Why should I go?

If you love outdoor adventure in rugged landscapes, invigorating sea air and cosy harbour villages, then you’ll love the Faroe Islands. Whether exploring the islands by car, foot, boat or bicycle, the excellent infrastructure makes it easy to get around. It’s an incredibly welcoming place with a gentle pace of life and an interesting mix of modern innovations based on ancient traditions.

What should I see?

Seeing thousands of puffins and other sea birds nesting in high cliffs is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the Faroes. So whether or not you are an enthusiastic birdwatcher, a boat trip to Vestmanna, or to the westernly island of Mykines – a “paradise of birds” – is an unforgettable experience.

Driving in the Faroes is a highlight in itself, as beautifully tarmacked roads sweep around the fjords and sounds, where houses with fluffy grass roofs blend into vibrant green landscape and every scene is a stunner.

A short drive from Vagar airport are two of the most dramatic views in the archipelago: the island of Tindhólmur, a rock that juts out of the ocean like a jagged shard of glass, and Gásadalur waterfall where icy water gushes from a sea cliff.

Image by Ros Walford

Saksun is one of the prettiest spots on Streymoy, the largest island. It’s a small settlement beside a steep-sided inlet, while over on Esturoy to the east, winding roads take you up into the mountainous north and up to the highest peak, Slættaratindur (882m). Not far from here, you can see two rock stacks, known as Risin og Kellingin (the giant and the witch) and the picturesque village of Gjógv, named after a gorge.

Visiting one of the smaller islands, such as the remarkable Stóra Dímun, is as remote as it gets. This 2-sq-km inaccessible island is inhabited by eight people who live in a farmhouse perched on a plateau surrounded by vertical sea cliffs. The only access is via a helicopter service that delivers supplies three times a week. Tourists can come here on boat trips or stay on the island for a few days in summer, when the schoolhouse doubles as a self-catering apartment.

What outdoor activities can I do?

It’s possible to do almost any outdoor activity here, from horseriding, trail-running and climbing to sea kayaking, sailing and fly-fishing for wild salmon.

If you’ve got thighs of steel, you’ll enjoy cycling the quiet mountain roads. But those who prefer a gentler pace would be better off hiking.

There are many options for day walks: climb to the top of Slættaratindur for stunning views over the archipelago; take the postman’s path up over the steep ridge from Bøur to Gásadalur waterfall (which once was the only way to reach Gásadalur village before a tunnel was built). Alternatively, you can hike from Tórshavn to Kirkjubøur to see the oldest church in the Faroe Islands.

What about the capital city?

Tórshavn is one of the smallest capital cities in the world. Narrow streets cluster around the harbour, where a peninsula called the Tinganes sticks out into the bay. It’s here you’ll find the government buildings – modest wooden houses that stand on the site of one of the oldest parliamentary meeting places in the world.

As far back as the ninth century, the Vikings held a general assembly here (called a “Thing”), and evidence of their meetings can still be seen carved on the rocks. It’s still an informal place, where you might say “hej” (“hi”) to a government minister as they wander past in the lanes of the neighbouring district of tiny, grass-roofed houses.

Artistic and creative industries are flourishing here. The capital city may be small but it has its share of galleries, including the National Gallery On the outskirts of town, Nordic House hosts Faroese and Nordic art exhibitions, concerts, theatre and dance.

There are upmarket craft and design shops including designer knitwear from Guðrun & Guðrun (creators of the desirable sweater worn by detective Sarah Lund in Danish crime drama The Killing), an excellent design cooperative called Öström, and colourful glass creations at Mikkalina Glas.

Image by Ros Walford

Is there a music scene?

Tutl is the only music shop and record label in the Faroe Islands. Outdoor festivals are an important feature in summer, and key dates in the diary include G! Festival, during which thousands of people descend on the tiny village of Gøta to enjoy rock music and hot tubs on the beach.

At Hoyma, also held in Gøta, festival-goers revive the old tradition of going from house to house to enjoy acoustic concerts inside residents’ living rooms.

What should I eat?

One of the loveliest dining experiences is Heimablídni, the Faroese tradition of “home hospitality”, in which guests pay for a meal cooked and served at the home of their hosts.

You’re likely to be able to try some of the local favourites, such as fresh fish or fermented meat (which is nicer than it sounds – it’s usually a tender leg of lamb that’s been left to hang in the salty sea air, in a process similar to curing).

It’s not all rustic cuisine, though. There are some sophisticated fine-dining restaurants in Tórshavn. Aarstova is famous for its slow-cooked Faroese lamb, while Barbara is a superb fish restaurant in a turf-topped building.

Image by Ros Walford

How do I get around?

Fifteen years ago, the only way to get between the islands was via ferry. Now, two sub-sea tunnels link the main islands and a network of smaller tunnels connect valleys and villages that were once isolated from the world. The smaller tunnels can take some getting used to, as one lane serves traffic coming in both directions. Fortunately, the Public Roads’ Office has made a useful video that explains all you need to know about driving.

The subsidised (and very good value) helicopter service, operated by Atlantic Airways, runs regularly between the smaller islands. It’s an exhilarating way of getting around, but they only fly every other day and you can’t book a return, so plan carefully. Otherwise, buses and ferries are slower paced alternatives.

For further information about the Faroe Islands, see the Visit Faroe Islands and Visit Tórshavn websites. Atlantic Airways operate daily flights to Vagar Airport from Copenhagen.

Ahead of the release of the new live-action Jungle Book film, Shafik Meghji uncovers the Indian landscape that inspired Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale – and picks out five other destinations where you can find the characters’ real-life counterparts.

The national parks of eastern Madhya Pradesh are often described as “Kiplingesque”. This landscape of creeper-clad forests, expansive savannah, grassy hills, and meandering streams simply teems with wildlife: monkeys, pythons, sloth bears, wild boar, swamp deer, wild dogs, leopards, porcupines, gaur (the world’s largest wild cattle), and – of course – majestic Royal Bengal tigers.

Rudyard Kipling, who was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) and spent his formative years in India, never actually visited this central Indian region, but drew heavily on the accounts of several British travellers who had for The Jungle Book. At the time he was writing, eastern Madhya Pradesh was a vast viceregal hunting ground, where prominent British army officers and civil servants sought out trophies – particularly tiger heads – to display at home. The first national park in the state – Kanha – was only created in 1955.

Today, it’s easy to imagine “man-cub” Mowgli, Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther and the rest of the gang stalking through Madhya Pradesh’s reserves. However, Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba in the new film) is by far the biggest draw for tourists: you have a better chance of spotting a tiger in the wild in one of the state’s parks – particularly in Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench – than anywhere else on Earth.

Madhya Pradesh’s premier park is Kanha, which spans some 940 square kilometres and is home to an estimated 40-45 tigers. Lodges just outside the park – including the excellent Shergarh Tented Camp – run jeep safaris (known locally as “game drives”) at sunrise and in the early afternoon, with guides scouring the ground for “pug marks” (tiger footprints) and listening out for the agitated alarm calls that signal that a big cat is close by.

Nothing, though, quite prepares you for your first sight of a tiger in the wild.

Whether it is a brief glimpse of gold and black in the undergrowth or an extended viewing of a big cat in the open, it feels like an incredible privilege.

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

If you’re after your own Jungle Book adventure this year, head to one of these wild and wonderful landscapes:

Track Bagheera in Kenya

Leopards are notoriously difficult to spot in the wild. Melanistic leopards – better known as black panthers – are even more elusive. But with time, patience and a large dose of luck, you may be able to find the cat upon which the sleek Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) was based in the Matthews Range, an undulating 150km-long series of forested hills in central Kenya that is also home to lions, elephants, buffalos and rhinos.

Meet King Louie in Sumatra, Indonesia

Although he didn’t actually appear in Rudyard Kipling’s book, King Louie the orang-utan was one of the most memorable characters in the 1967 Disney film adaptation. If you want to meet a real-life “king of the swingers” (voiced by Christopher Walken in the new film), head to Gunung Leuser National Park on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Here you can trek through the dense, riverine rainforest, whose trees are filled with orang-utans, as well as gibbons and macaques.

Search for Baloo in Nepal

Voiced by Bill Murray in the new film, Baloo is one of the most beloved characters in The Jungle Book, with a cuddly, comical image. Yet the sloth bear, the animal upon which Baloo is based, can actually be quite aggressive. It is possible to view them safely, however, right across the Subcontinent, notably in the Terai region of southern Nepal. The country’s two most famous wildlife reserves, Chitwan and Bardia, both have significant numbers of these shaggy-furred, largely nocturnal creatures, who feast on fruit, termites and honeybees.

Spot Kaa in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Indian rock pythons like Kaa, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, can grow to up to three metres in length. Their African cousins, however, are even bigger: some exceed six metres. One of the best places to spot these giant constrictors is Kruger National Park, South Africa’s largest and most famous reserve. Encompassing savannah, bushland, tropical forests and mountains, the park is also home to some 150 species of mammals and over 500 species of birds.

Find Akela in Yellowstone National Park, USA

America’s first national park, spanning almost 9000 square kilometres, Yellowstone is home to the cousins of Akela, the wise leader of the wolf pack that adopts Mowgli, voiced by Breaking Bad star Giancarlo Esposito in the new film. Grey wolves were hunted and poisoned to the point of extinction in the park in the 1920s, but they were reintroduced in 1995 and now number more than a hundred. Wolf-watching trips have become increasingly popular and sightings are common.

Shafik Meghji co-authors The Rough Guide to India and The Rough Guide to Nepal. He blogs at www.unmappedroutes.com and tweets @ShafikMeghjiCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

We sent Rough Guides editor Rachel Mills to the southernmost tip of the Indian Subcontinent to research Kerala for the upcoming Rough Guide to India. From tea estates in lush green hills to sultry palm-fringed backwaters, plus a host of deserted beaches, she dove beneath the surface and immersed herself in the region’s natural wonders, lavish festivals and heavenly South Indian food.

In this video, Rachel shares tips on the top five things to do in Kerala. Here’s her expert travel advice for your trip to “God’s Own Country”.

Scotland sports such a strong selection of tourist attractions – from castles and cabers to kilts and whisky – it’s easy to forget that there is much more to this land. Venture away from the cities and you’ll find that Scotland holds over ten percent of Europe’s coastline and almost 300 mountains over 3000ft-tall. Ready to explore? Here are seven Scottish places that you you’ve probably not heard of, but must visit.

1. The Isle of Harris, the Western Isles

Sitting in the far northwest of Scotland’s collections of more than 700 islands, the epic bleached-white sands on the coast of Harris have been compared to the Caribbean’s finest beaches. There are ample stretches of perfect puffy white sand to choose from: our favourites are Luskentyre, Seilebost and the wide sweep of Scarista. You will often have these beaches all to yourself, and even if someone dares to break your solitude, you can just wander along to the next one.

Isle of Harris, Scotland by iknow-uk on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

2. The Quiraing, Isle of Skye

It may look like the gnarled New Zealand countryside which doubled so superbly as the setting for the Lord of the Rings films, but this Tolkienesque landscape is actually on Scotland’s Isle of Skye. Sheer rock faces, twisted stacks, piercing pinnacles and unlikely erratic boulders combine to conjure up an otherworldly scene that looks truly spectacular on a sunny day. It’s even more dramatic when Skye’s notorious mists creep in.

3. St Kilda, the Western Isles

St Kilda is an archipelago so impressive that it became the first place in the world to be recognised by the UNESCO World Heritage list for both its natural heritage (it’s home to the unique Soay sheep and the St Kilda field mouse) and its human history (its inhabitants lived a unique communal life until it was abandoned in 1930).

It’s an often (very) bumpy boat ride out across forty miles of ocean from the Western Isles to get there, but the sheer cliffs and otherworldly rock formations are worth the effort.

Cleit on Hirta with Soay lamb by Irenicrhonda on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

4. Foula, the Shetland Islands

Few Scots have even heard of the UK’s most remote inhabited isle, which is mind-bendingly different. Take a boat twenty miles away from the Shetland mainland and you can watch as the hardy Foula locals (there are less than forty of them) help haul your ferry out so that it isn’t dashed into the rocks by the storms that frequently thrash through.

Venture out across this rugged island’s hilly wilderness and in summer you can see bonxies (huge skuas) and Arctic Terns swooping above your heads. Or, enjoy a picnic by the sea as you watch orcas hunt for seals on the rocky shores that even the Romans never made it out to. They dubbed Foula their Ultima Thule, or the end of the known world, when they spied it in the distance.

Foula post office by neil roger on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

5. Cairngorms National Park, the Highlands

Despite being the UK’s largest national park – home to what is also the largest mountain plateau in the UK – Cairngorms National Park is one of the least-visited. This vast, inhospitable wilderness often looks more like the Arctic than Scotland, with snow drifts swirling in hurricane force winds during winter, and ice and snow lingering in places right through summer.

It feels a world apart too, as you ramble across a lunar landscape where the UK’s only wild reindeer herd roam and the wrecks of crashed WWII aircraft and debris from two more modern F-16s lie frozen in time. The plateau is a paradise for well prepared walkers in summer, and skiers and snowboarders take over in winter.

6. Loch Torridon, the Highlands

Fancy a visit to the Norwegian fjords? Well, save yourself some cash and head to Wester Ross, which offers the fjord-like delights of little known Loch Torridon. This mighty sea loch spreads its tentacles from the small village of Torridon, flanked by the natural amphitheatre of the Torridon Mountains, which tower over 1000m-high.

The cobalt blue waters, lack of development and bountiful marine life – look out for seals, dolphins and, as you get closer to the open sea, whales – beguile and evoke a Nordic vibe. You can stay at the SYHA hostel, the relaxed Torridon Inn or the seriously posh mock baronial Torridon Hotel, which makes the most of its epic fjord views.

Loch Torridon, sunrise by Steve Schnabel on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

7. Thurso, the Highlands

Let’s talk surfing. We all know about Australia’s Bondi and the brilliant waves in Bali – but what about Thurso? It’s usually a case of on with the drysuit rather than wetsuit here, but the coastline around the Highland town of Thurso packs a serious punch in the world of surfing.

Unsuspecting walkers are often surprised to find the surreal spectacle of a dozen surfers lying out in the Pentland Firth, looking to catch some of the serious waves you get in these tumultuous waters, as the Orkney Isles blink back in the distance. The conditions are so good that a volley of surf championships have been held here, including two world championships for kayak surfing.

Thurso Reef by Dave Ellis on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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

You can’t expect to fit everything Europe has to offer into one trip and we don’t suggest you try. For those taking a big, extended trip around the continent you could join a few countries together.

Each of these itineraries could be done in two or three weeks if followed to the letter but don’t push it too hard – with so much to see and do you’re bound to get waylaid somewhere you love or stray off the suggested route.

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

1. Britain and Ireland

Where else to begin but London (1) – one of the world’s greatest but most expensive cities. While your wallet is still intact move on to the storied grounds of Oxford (2) before heading to Snowdonia (3), where the Welsh mountains provide excellent hiking.

Soak up some history in the medieval streets of York (4), then make the trip north to stunning Edinburgh (5). Find your inner Braveheart in the Scottish Highlands (6) and fit in an unforgettable hike, climb, or ski while you’re at it.

Pop across the North Channel to Belfast (7), but be sure not to miss the nearby Giant’s Causeway – one of Europe’s great natural wonders. Grab a perfect pint of Guinness in Dublin (8), then wind down on the windswept beaches of Ireland’s West Coast (9).

2. France and Switzerland

Start in Paris (1), Europe’s most elegant capital, then venture off to the châteaux and prime vineyards of the Loire Valley (2). Move south to beautiful Bordeaux (3), which boasts bustling city life and some of Europe’s finest surfing beaches to boot.

Head south the peaks of the Pyrenees (4) before taking a trip through Southern France to the Côte d’Azur (5). Don’t miss the magic of Corsica (6), a true adventure playground, or traditional cooking in Lyon (7), the country’s gastronomic capital.

Try your luck skiing and climbing in the Alps (8), and end by relaxing riverside in laid-back Zürich (9).

3. Benelux, Germany and Austria

Kick off in Amsterdam (1) before enjoying more atmospheric canals and beautiful buildings in Bruges (2). Cologne’s (3) spectacular old town is a perfect first stop in Germany, but be sure to head north soon after for the vast port and riotous bars of Hamburg (4).

Few cities can compete with the style and youthful energy of Berlin (5), while Dresden (6) has also become a favourite backpacker hangout. Then head south to Munich (7), where Bavaria’s capital boasts everything from snowy scenery to beer-fuelled Oktoberfest.

Cross over the boarder to Austria and hit the slopes or the Mozart trail in scenic Salzburg (8), and conclude this itinerary among the palaces, museums, cafés and boulevards of Vienna (9).

4. Spain, Portugal and Morocco

Begin in the Basque capital of Bilbao (1), Spain’s friendliest city and home of the Guggenheim. Then it’s on to the city beaches, late-night bars and enchanting old town of Barcelona (2). Ibiza‘s (3) nightclubs are famous the world over, but its pockets of peace and quiet are worth the trip alone.

Gobble tapas and dance the night away in Madrid (4) before heading west for the countless port lodges of Porto (5). Cruise down the Atlantic coast to the historic Portuguese capital of Lisbon (6), then make for the region of Andalucía (7), stopping in the cities of Seville and Granada as you venture further south.

If you catch a ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar to Morocco and set course for Fez (8), explore the medieval Moroccan city of labyrinth alleys, souks and mosques. Finish up in Marrakesh (9), a colourful city with a stunning backdrop of the Atlas Mountains.

5. Italy

Start in Milan (1) for a little Prada, Gucci, and Leonardo da Vinci. Veer east to visit the world’s most beautiful city, Venice (2), then south to the foodie nirvana of Bologna (3). Glide onwards to Tuscany (4) where Florence and Siena make excellent bases to explore the region’s hill towns.

You can hardly “do” Europe and not see Rome (5), and there is truly no better place to eat pizza than in the crumbling yet attractive city of Naples (6). Experience a Roman town frozen in time at Pompeii (7), before sleeping in one of Matera’s (8) hand-carved caves.

Kick back in Sicily (9) on idyllic beaches beneath smouldering volcanoes, or enjoy the hectic pace of Palermo, one of Italy’s most in-your-face cities.

6. Central and Eastern Europe

Get going in Prague (1), a pan-European city with beer that never disappoints. Move east to Warsaw’s (2) vodka-soaked bar scenes, Old Town, palaces and parks.

Arty and atmospheric Kraków (3) shouldn’t be missed, and neither should a trip to charming cafés of L’viv (4). Leave cities behind for the majestic wilderness of Slovakia‘s Tatra Mountains (4), then head back to civilisation and immerse yourself in Budapest (6) where you’ll find two great cities in one.

Finish this itinerary up in Ljubljana (7); Slovenia’s capital is a perfectly formed pit stop between central Europe and the Adriatic if you’re eager to push on to the Balkans.

7. Scandinavia

Start in the lively lanes of beautiful Copenhagen (1), and head north to Gothenburg’s (2) elegant architecture, fantastic nightlife and fully-functioning rainforest. A visit to Oslo (3) is worth the expense, but after a while you’ll feel the pull of the Norwegian fjords (4).

The mild climate and wild scenery of the Lofoten Islands (5) should not be skipped, but neither should the reindeer, huskies and elusive Northern Lights of Lapland (6). Of course, no trip to Scandinavia would be complete without a stop in Stockholm (7).

If you’re travelling in summer, get to Gotland (8) – Sweden’s party island, buzzing with DJs and bronzed bodies on the beach.

8. Russia and the Baltic Coast

Big, brash, expensive surreal – Moscow (1) is almost a nation in itself, and well worth a visit before moving on to the jaw-dropping architecture and priceless art collections of St Petersburg (2).

Head west to Helsinki (3), the proudly Finnish love child of Russian and Swedish empires, then hop across the gulf to charming and beautifully preserved Tallinn in Estonia (4).

Latvia’s cosmopolitan Riga (5) should not be missed, and when you need your nature fix go further south to the Curonian Spit (6), a strip of sand dunes and dense forest ideal for cycling and hiking. Wind this trip down in Vilnius (7), the friendliest and perhaps even the prettiest of all Baltic capitals.

9. The Balkans

Start with a slew of cheap but delicious wine, watersports, and vitamin D on the Dalmatian coast (1), then move on to Europe’s war-scarred but most welcoming capital, Sarajevo (2).

History-steeped Dubrovnik (3) rivalled Venice in its day, and is an easy stop on the way to Budva (4), Montenegro’s star resort with unspoilt beaches and throbbing open-air bars. Head further south to Tirana (5) for charming architecture and urban exploration, before visiting the shimming shores of Ohrid’s (6) mountain-backed lake.

Be sure to check out the chilled vibe of Sofia (7), and the more upbeat buzz of Serbia’s hip capital: Belgrade (8). End this itinerary by discovering Transylvania (9) – you probably won’t find any vampires, but you will find fairytale villages, colourful festivals, and wolf tracking in the Carpathians.

10. Greece and Turkey

Begin by finding the perfect beach in Kefaloniá (1), and continue to Athens (2) for a sun set over the Parthenon. Sail first to the island of Íos (3) for partying backpackers and hippie-era charm, then on to Crete’s (4) Samarian Gorge.

Get to the Turkish mainland for a visit to the remarkably preserved temples, mosaics, and baths in Ephesus (5) before mountain biking, paragliding, or diving in Kaş (6).

Then venture east to Cappadocia’s (7) volcanic landscape and subterranean city, and wrap up among the bazaars, hammams, and surprisingly hectic nightlife in Istanbul (8).

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

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

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

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

1. Vietnam

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

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

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

2. Myanmar

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

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

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

3. Laos and Cambodia

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

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

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


4. Bangkok and Northern Thailand

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

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

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

5. Thailand’s Beaches and Islands

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

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

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

6. Singapore and Malaysia

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

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

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

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

7. Indonesia

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

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

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

8. The Philippines

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

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

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

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

Featured image by Lee Aik Soon.

Imagine an adorable fleet of tiny turtles flopping their way towards sea, leaving the beach behind them until their miraculously return, years later, to nest at the exact site of their birth. For lovers of nature and all things cute, witnessing a sea turtle hatch will be an unforgettable experience.

Yet, due to unsustainably developed coastlines, industrial fishing practices (in which turtles are accidentally netted), poaching, climate change, water pollution and the consumption of turtle meat and eggs, nearly all seven species of sea turtles have become highly endangered. Only 1 in 5000 baby sea turtles will live to be adults.

Plan your trip during the destination’s hatching season, but remember there’s no guarantee you’ll actually see a hatching. It’s no different than trying to guess the moment an egg in a birds nest will hatch – nearly impossible, even for conservationists. However, volunteering with a turtle conservation project will greatly improve your chances.

Remember: Never search for sea turtles without a guide. Never take any flash photography, or shine light without a red-filter on them. Mothers are easily disturbed when nesting. Don’t be part of the problem. Give them their space.

1. Palau Tioman, Malaysia

The situation of turtles in Malaysia has been dire for quite some time, particularly on the paradisiacal-looking island of Pulau Tioman. Despite this, the dedicated volunteers at the Juara Turtle Project have done an exceptional job at improving their numbers through nest protection, working with local communities, research, education and outreach. But they’re still fighting the good fight every day, especially against beach development by resorts.

An easy drive and ferry ride from both Singapore and Johor Bahru, the Juara Turtle Project offers affordable and accessible single and group volunteer experiences for turtle hatching and conservation.

Hatching season: March to October.

Juara Beach, Palau Tioman by Arnaud Besnier (CC license)

2. Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

When an area’s name literally translates as “region of turtles”, you know you’re in the right place. Just 80km north of Port of Limon, on the palm-lined Caribbean coast, this is one of the most important nesting sites in the western hemisphere. Here, giant leatherback, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles all find roost. 

A variety of turtle experiences can be booked through the park, whereas the Sea Turtle Conservancy group offer volunteer adventures in the area. Keep in mind that turtles nest on both coasts of Costa Rica. Check out Osa Conservation’s volunteer program on the country’s Pacific side.

Hatching seasons: Caribbean coast: July to October and March to May. Pacific coast: October to February and July to November.

 3. Kosgoda, Sri Lanka

Green sea turtles are the most common species on the sandy shores of Sri Lanka. Four other species of turtle nest here as well, but due to their dwindling numbers are, sadly, a rare find.

The Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project has run a rustic but vital hatchery in the area since 1988, and has been especially hard at work to protect nesting grounds since the devastation of the tsunami in 2004.

Hatching season: November to May.

Turtle volunteers in Kosgoda by Amila Tennakoon (CC license)

 4. Greece and the Greek Islands

While the status of sea turtles in the Mediterranean might not seem so dire as in other regions, rampant tourist development and net-fishing still threaten populations. Think it’s time to turn that Greek beach vacay you’ve been planning into a volunteer trip?

Organisations such as Archelon work to ensure the conservation of turtles at numerous sites of coastal Greece and its islands, graciously offering a less-intensive conservation work to sunbathing ratio for a variety of volunteers (part-time, full-time, individuals, families and large groups).

Hatching season: August to October.

 5. Ras Al Jinz, Oman

Near the authentic fishing village of Ras Al Jinz, this area of the Arabian Sea is world-renowned for its endangered green turtle nesting grounds.

Oman’s eco-tourism project at Ras Al Hadd Turtle Reserve, does its best to help tourists witness a hatching, while ensuring that human induced threats are controlled. The centre also offers visitors guided night trips in hopes of witnessing a nesting.

Hatching season: Year-round, usually peaking in July.

Turtle watching in Oman  by Photos particulières (CC license)

6. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

This popular beach resort is also a turtle-watching hot spot, with a number of conservation organisations offering turtle tours, with controlled release of hatchlings most nights during peak season.

Though Mexico‘s Puerto Vallarta is easily accessible for families, viewers should stay quiet around nesting turtles, as they are very timid; disturbing them will only make you part of the problem.

Hatching season: July to September.

 7. Iztuzu, Turkey

Situated on a narrow strip of strip of sand separating the fresh water of Turkey‘s Daylan River from the Mediterranean, this landscape is worth a visit in itself  ­– though Iztuzu is commonly called “Turtle Beach” for a reason.

Almost bulldozed in the name of mass tourism during the 1980s, the Kaptan June Turtle Sea Turtle Conservation Foundation has not only won hard-fought battles against development to ensure the safety of loggerhead sea turtle nesting grounds. It’s also succeeded in making Iztuzu Beach a much loved eco-tourist attraction, great for travellers of all ages.

Hatching season: May to June.

Iztuzu Beach by Peter Smithson (CC license)

8. Tofo Beach, Mozambique

Coastal Mozambique is a gorgeous and extremely important site of marine biodiversity that is, regrettably, under great threat.

For anyone looking for a deeper engagement with marine life than simply a visit to a conservation center, Underwater Africa offers volunteer experiences ranging for 4–16 weeks. From turtle walks to scuba dives, volunteering in Mozambique is a great way to spur a passion for ocean conservation in Africa and at large.

Hatching season: December to March.

 9. Port Barton, Philippines

The Philippines‘ tranquil turquoise waters of Port Barton are a great place to kick back and see some turtles in action. Whether you’re snorkeling in “Turtle Bay” or viewing a hatchling release at the nearby Secret Paradise Marine Sanctuary, it’s an easy place to satisfy that turtle-watching fix.

Hatching season: December to May.

Almost there by Beth Jusino (CC License)

There’s more to see in Canada’s most populated province than ice hockey, forests and freely flowing maple syrup – and some of it’s pretty weird. From the world’s largest Elvis Presley festival, to axe throwing ranges in Toronto, here are just a few things you didn’t know you could do in Ontario.

1. Drink Dead Elephant Ale while gazing at a dead elephant

On September 15, 1885 Jumbo the Elephant of the PT Barnum circus, the world’s first animal celebrity, was hit by a train and killed in St Thomas, Ontario. It made global headlines. Jumbo’s skeleton is on display at the New York Museum of Natural History and his ashes are interred at Tuft’s University. Thankfully, none of these remains are distilled in the Railway Brewing Company’s tribute. They boast a hoppy IPA in honour of Jumbo, dubbed Dead Elephant Ale, and an enormous statue of the deceased animal in front of their business. Cheers?

2. Lace up your blue suede shoes for the biggest Elvis Festival on Earth

Situated on the unlikely banks of Georgian Bay, the ski resort town of Collingwood hosts an Elvis-fest to end all Elvis-fests every summer. Impersonators with greasy pompadours and overwhelming sideburns flock here from around the globe with hopes of being crowned the next King of Rock ‘N’ Roll. Every venue in downtown Collingwood, plus the nearby hot spot of Blue Mountain resort, is practically crawling with Elvises. Whether the impersonators are bang on, or hilariously missing the mark, they’re a lot of fun to gawk at.

Collingwood Elvis Festival by Jay Morrison (CC license)

3. Trim a few years off of your life with Dangerous Dan’s “Colossal Colon Clogger”

If gorging on local fast-food is your idea of a holiday then don’t miss Dangerous Dan’s, named after owner James’ grandfather, a wrestler notorious for his unhealthy diet. The Toronto restaurant is famous for its “Quadruple ‘C’ Combo” – a 24oz burger served with a quarter pound of cheese, a quarter pound of bacon, two fried eggs, a side of poutine and a large milkshake. Be sure to leave room for a Double D cup dessert to hammer the final nail in your food coma coffin. Eat at your own risk.

4. Get sleepy in a tepee on Manitoulin Island

On beautiful Manitoulin Island’s M’Chigeeng Reserve lies a forest ringed campground with tepees, wigwams and a native longhouse. Here, at the Great Spirit Circle Trail, glampers can get back to nature in a luxury-enhanced tepees. Whether you want to hike, canoe, forage on a medicine walk or take on a horseback tour into the Manitoulin wilderness, this is a wonderful way to learn a bit about the rich cultures of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.

5. Channel your inner lumberjack

The West Coast Lumberjacks didn’t win Canada’s Got Talent for nothing. Showcasing thrilling exhibitions of wood wizardry such as log rolling, chainsaw carving and axe throwing, they keep all audiences enthralled with superhuman skills. Catch a performance at Wonderland Amusement Park just outside of Toronto during the summer months, or at the Ontario Lumberjack Competition at Brechin in June. Feeling inspired? Channel your inner lumberjack at BATL, Toronto’s very own axe throwing range.

Axe throwing at BATL by Tibor Kovacs (CC license)

6. Retrace the footsteps of a prepubescent Justin Bieber in his hometown of Stratford

150km east of Toronto is the pretty little theatre town of Stratford, the site of Justin Bieber’s nativity. Yes, musical superstar Bieber’s talent was birthed and nurtured in this very place. For hardcore ‘Beliebers’, sitting on the steps of the Avon Theatre, where Justin used to busk, will no doubt be a holy pilgrimage of sorts. This self-guided tour also features the pizza parlour where Bieber has been known to give autographs and the City Hall where he recorded his first song.

7. Relax with a restorative ‘Stitch n’ Bitch’

Nothing is more therapeutic than the intricate needlework involved in knitting and crocheting. Except, perhaps, getting everything off your chest while you’re at it. The Knit Café in Toronto’s hip west-end not only offers drop-in sessions for beginners up to advanced students but is a great hang-out, with “Stich n’ Bitch meetups every Tuesday. By far, the most relaxing part of any session is the chat.

8. Break bread with Old Order Mennonites in St. Jacob’s Country

North of Toronto is a stunning rural area where farms are nestled among undulating hills. This countryside is home to twenty different sects of Mennonites, and on any given day you can see these farmers’ traditional horse-drawn buggies trundling along the roads. The village of St Jacob’s is home to St Jacob’s Mennonite Church, where there is a potluck supper open to visitors every Sunday at 5:30pm; a perfect opportunity to learn about the locals residents, many of whom still eschew the conveniences of modern technology, electricity included.

Ontario Mennonites by Zhu (CC license)

Explore more of Canada with the Rough Guide to CanadaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Lynn stayed with the Westin Trillium House Hotel, Blue Mountain, prices from $159 (low season) and $199 (high season). 

You’ve probably never heard of apitourism, or even considered “bee tourism” to be a thing. But it is, and it’s a travel trend swarming all over Slovenia.

While bee populations in countries such as the US are dwindling at an alarming rate, Slovenia is the only EU member state to have officially protected its prized bee race. They have 9600 beekeepers, around 12,500 apiaries and nearly 170,000 hive colonies.

We say ‘prized’ because the Carniolan honey bee is known for its friendly nature (they rarely sting) and hardy characteristics (they can survive sub-zero temperatures). Which explains why they sell 30,000 of their Queen Carniolan bees to European countries each year.

As the only country to certify apitourism providers, Slovenia will also host the European Green Capital in 2016. They’ll educate visitors on biodynamic and eco-friendly farming methods. Plus they’ll shine the light on the capital’s urban beekeeping and celebrate the UN movement which has declared May 20 World Bee Day.

So how can you get in on the action? Here are five ways to get up close and personal with Slovenia’s bees.

Go on the honey tasting trail

Thanks to its rich diversity of flora and expertise in mobile beekeeping, Slovenia produces 2400kg of honey each year.

Visit Marko Cesar, of the family-run Cesar brand, at his home near Maribor and you can sip on the country’s only sparkling chestnut honey-based wine. Elsewhere, you can sample liqueurs, mead, vinegar, beer and goats cheese, all made from honey.

Further west at the quaint Restaurant Lectar in Radovljica you can watch traditional honey bread hearts, or lectarstvo, being made; many biodynamic farmers flavour theirs with cinnamon, ginger, blueberry and chocolate.

Image by Lucy McGuire

Take an apitherapy tour

Nineteenth-century physician Filip Terc was ridiculed for claiming that bee venom could cure arthritis. But apitherapy is now recognised by the Slovenian Beekeeper’s Association as a legitimate form of homeopathy.

You can learn about the bacteria-fighting properties of propolis and the ‘curative’ effects of royal jelly on high blood pressure on an apitherapy tour.

Those with asthma can inhale ‘healing aromas’ from the hive while anyone feeling a little weary can try honey massages, beeswax thermotherapy – claimed to boost circulation and treat skin disorders – and a nap on special beehive beds, whose vibrations are said to induce calm.

Get hands-on at an apicamp

Whether you’re a beekeeping pro or simply want to learn more about the api-industry, Slovenia offers various ‘apicamps’ on Queen breeding, the apiculture science and traditional AZ hives.

You can join lectures in honey production, bee feeding and everything from comb wiring to obtaining propolis and royal jelly. Or if you want to do some serious swotting-up, you can head to the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association in Lukovica – home to a honey laboratory and apiculture Library.

Image by Lucy McGuire

Stay on an eco-api-friendly estate

The apitourism trend has done wonders for highlighting new forms of eco-conscious travel. And many companies like ApiRoutes are using this niche industry to shine the spotlight on an array of eco and socially conscious accommodation and tours. In the lead up to 2016 – when Ljubljana will be hailed the official Green Capital – this ‘Green Piece of Europe’ will be thrust onto the responsible stage.

If you do one thing, check out the remarkable Trnulja Estate – a 100% organic farm with charming bio-apartments and excellent green credentials. Tanja Arih Korosec, Director of AriTours, says: ‘Tourism is becoming more about sustainability and if we can [use apitourism] to encourage tourists to act in a more sustainable way, other countries will follow.”

Image by Lucy McGuire

Discover api-folklore

During the mid-eighteenth century, Slovenia was rich in rural folk art, which appeared on many of the country’s traditional stacked AZ bee houses – it was believed that the motifs helped the bees navigate back to their hives.

Visit the Slovenian beekeeping museum in Radovljica to see 600 of these original hand-painted panels or take an excursion to the beautiful village of Selo to meet Danijela Ambrozic, who offers traditional api-artwork workshops from her beekeeping farm.

For more information on AriTours and ApiRoutes, visit Aritours.si and Apiroutes.com. Find more travel information on the Slovenia Tourist Board site at slovenia.info. WIZZ flies from London Luton to Ljubljana from £11.49. For more information visit wizzair.com. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels 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.

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.

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.

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.

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