On a visit to see orangutans Anna Kaminski is confronted with bears instead. With the world’s only sun bear sanctuary opening to the public next year, she joins an exclusive tour of the centre and meets some of the adorable creatures who have been rescued by the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre.

Polar bears are renowned for their size and hunting prowess, grizzlies occasionally make the news for attacking hikers in the North American wilderness, and the panda has long cornered the market on ursine cuteness, yet mention the sun bear – which could easily rival the panda in the adorableness stakes – and you get blank stares, as so little is known about the smallest of the world’s eight bear species.

I’m visiting the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah, Borneo, when a friend of mine introduces me to Siew Te Wong, a Malaysian wildlife biologist who founded the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in 2008, and is busy supervising the construction of the outdoor bear enclosures at the site next door to Sepilok.  Wong agrees to take me on an impromptu tour, so we don rubber boots and go on a muddy tramp around the site’s perimeter.

Wong explains why sun bears have the name they do (“they each have a distinctive white mark on their chest that looks like the sun”) and reveals the inspiration behind the project.

“I’ve been studying these remarkable creatures for over 13 years now and have seen them held captive in dreadful conditions: tiny cages and decrepit zoos. Something had to be done.  You find sun bears throughout Asia, but Borneo is their last stronghold, and even here they face numerous threats.”

Deforestation, illegal logging inside protected areas and conversion of rainforest to palm oil plantation practices mean the sun bears’  habitat keeps on shrinking and their numbers have been steadily declining over the last few decades.

“Even though they’re classified as ‘Totally Protected Species’ in Sabah, farmers see them as pests and kill them to prevent them from getting at the crops” Wong tells me.

“They’re also hunted for their gall bladders which are still – unfortunately – widely used in traditional Chinese medicine.”

Sun bears are also particularly cute when little, so poachers kill their mothers and sell the babies as pets, which then spend their lives in tiny cages, being fed an inadequate diet. With 28 bears currently in its care, I ask Wong about the goals of the BSBCC.

“We’re trying to do several things at once: raise awareness and educate people about sun bears, provide a good long-term home for those bears whom we won’t be able to release back into the wild, and a short-term home for those that can be rehabilitated.”

We suddenly notice another bear high up a tree, climbing with the grace of a big cat.  Another bear is visible through the thick undergrowth, sharpening her long, capable-looking claws on a tree stump.

“They’re remarkable climbers. And this is what I’d like people to see – these wonderful creatures in their own environment.”   Wong goes on to explain that once the sanctuary is completed, the visitors will be able to walk around the large outdoor enclosure and observe the bears’ interaction from several viewing platforms above.  The outdoor enclosure comprises a slice of jungle, linked to the bears’ individual indoor living spaces.  They are free to wander outside whenever they like and some do, whereas a few are still too traumatised to face the great outdoors.

I’m interested in the individual bears and their stories so Wong leads me inside to show me some of the residents.

“This is two-year-old Mary; she was orphaned when her mother was killed and when she was rescued, she was someone’s pet. She’s recovering though, and plays well with the other little one, Debbie.  That old male is Amaco. At the moment he’s showing no interest in venturing outside.”

My visit is winding to a close. Inside their house it’s almost dinnertime, and the bears know it. A couple are languidly swinging on their tyres, while others are getting restless. Volunteers are putting food in hollow balls and other receptacles, which simulate the bears’ natural environment where they’d have to patiently extract insects from inside trees and honey from beehives.

The food containers are pushed through the slots of the indoor enclosures with almost military precision and the bears pounce on the food. Even after their troubled and traumatic pasts, contentment still reigns after a good meal.

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre should be open to the public in early 2014, allowing you to see two of Borneo’s most fascinating mammals – the sun bear and the orangutan – in a single visit to Sepilok.    

Each day, at around 11am, a strange combination of sounds – excited laughter, lots of splashing and the occasional burst of trumpeting – can be heard drifting through the village of Sauraha in southern Nepal. Elephant bath time has begun.

This ritual takes place in the Rapti River, which separates Sauraha from Chitwan National Park, home to the endangered one-horned rhino. After a busy morning carrying tourists around the park and the nearby Community Forest reserves, a procession of dusty pachyderms are led by their mahouts to the river for a good scrub down – and, for a small fee, travellers are welcome to join in the fun.

After they have waded in, the elephants shoot jets of water into the air from their trunks, wallow on their sides while layers of mud are scraped off and, from time to time, dump unsuspecting riders into the river. In theory it is only the elephants that are there to be washed, but in practice anyone in the vicinity is given a good soaking too. This magical experience produces a childlike glee in even the most sober and straitlaced adult – and the elephants appear to enjoy it almost as much.

Before taking part in bath time, it’s worth visiting the Elephant Breeding Project, 4km west of Sauraha, where elephants are trained to work in the park. It is home to several adult male elephants, a harem of females for them to breed with and usually a number of impossibly cute babies. While it can be difficult to tear yourself away from the calves, the small information room contains a list of verbal commands that should prove useful during bath time – if you manage to master the pronunciation. Mail means “stand up”, baith means “sit down” and, perhaps most appropriately, chhop means “spray water”.

Regular buses travel to Sauraha from Kathmandu, Pokhara and Sonauli, on the Indian border. For more on the park, see chitwannationalpark.net.

 

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The fact that in Icelandic the word for beached whale is the same as that for jackpot or windfall may give you some clue as to how these seaborne beasts are seen by the locals. Yes, you may well find whale on the menu in Iceland’s restaurants – but thanks to a temporary moratorium on whaling back in the enlightened nineties, whalers were forced to seek alternative sources of income and at that point the whale-watching industry was born.

Sadly the moratorium was lifted in 2006, but stocks remain high – and consequently so do sightings. Head out to sea and across Skjálfandi Bay from Húsavík on the island’s north coast and thanks to experienced local guides who know every inch of this blustery bay, your opportunities of seeing at least one gentle giant are good.

Unlike many other countries, Iceland plays host to numerous different species of whale, which makes scanning the waterline that much more interesting. The species you’re most likely to see is the (relatively) small minke whale, which favours shallow waters near the coast and is very inquisitive, often bringing its head out of the water to watch the boat. The massive blue whale (the largest animal on Earth), vast fin whale (the second largest), square-headed sperm whale and the killer whale are also often sighted, but the biggest creature you’ll probably spot is the humpback. Humpback whales are famous for their entertaining behaviour and lively acrobatics, and this is the species most likely to breach, leaping out of the water to expose its whole body, often up to seventeen metres in length.

As if that wasn’t quite enough marine life for one trip, there are also dolphins, puffins and other seabirds in this lively bay – more than enough to keep those binoculars busy, and to put a big salty smile on your face as you return to shore for dinner. Just remember to order carefully if you’ve fallen in love with these graceful creatures.

Húsavík’s two main whale-watching operators are Gentle Giants (www.gentlegiants.is) and North Sailing Húsavík (www.northsailing.is). Both operate daily from May to September and trips last around three hours. Temperatures rarely creep above 10°C even in summer, so wrap up warm.

 

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Whatever your budget, Kenya has no shortage of post-safari pursuits, writes Richard Trillo, author of the Rough Guide to Kenya and Kenya Programme Manager at Expert Africa. Whether you’re after a relaxing beach break or another adventure, there’s plenty to see and do in Kenya once you’ve left the wildlife behind.

Share a beach house – or rent a tree-house

Chilling on the coast is a popular way to relax after the full-on activity of a safari. There are plenty of hotels and guesthouses on the shores of the Indian Ocean, but renting a house on Tiwi Beach tops them all. The fully staffed Olerai Beach House sleeps up to ten, so it’s ideal for a tropical house party. In the huge gardens, there’s a stunning swimming pool with a water slide and landscaped caves, while the beach lies right in front of you through the palms. It’s quite remote, so there’s the option to have a minibus and driver at your disposal for trips into Mombasa and other excursions. However, if you’re on more of a shoestring budget, then Stilts Backpackers, on Diani Beach, is a great location for the budget traveller. Funky treehouses (huts on stilts), a tree-level bar-restaurant and plenty of convivial company make it a popular base, and the beach is just a five-minute walk away.

The Tiwi Beach house costs a minimum of US$700 (£470) per night for four people, including all meals and drinks, with further guests costing $100 (£70) per night (under 11s pay half). The minibus and driver is an extra $250 (£170) per day.

Stay in a rainforest lodge in the Shimba Hills – or explore a ruined city

Coastal adventures come in many shapes and sizes. Just inland from the beaches of the south coast lies Shimba Hills National Reserve. The hills, teeming with elephants and forest wildlife, house an authentic rainforest lodge, where trees grow through the wooden building, and a treetop walkway winds through the forest to a waterhole. Also in the forest, near the small resort town of Watamu on the north coast, the ruins of the stone town of Gedi lay hidden in the jungle for hundreds of years. The identity of the sixteenth-century inhabitants of the town, excavated in the 1940s, is still unknown, but today their houses and mosques can be explored and are particularly atmospheric at dusk.

Take a dhow cruise in Mombasa harbour or tour the old city on a tuk-tuk

There’s sightseeing with a difference at the coast’s main town, the island city of Mombasa. Several large vessels –big trading dhows known as jahazi – have been converted for use as comfortable excursion boats, with cushions, carpets and on-board kitchens. Embarking just before sunset, you watch the sun drop behind the palm trees and kick the evening off with a dawa cocktail (a Kenyan blend of vodka and honey; it means “medicine”). Then, entertained by a Swahili taarab band, you chug around Tudor Creek and Mombasa Harbour as you set to work on red snapper, lobster, lamb and crunchy vegetables. Some cruises include a son-et-lumière show at Fort Jesus, the city’s standout historical site (cruises can be booked through any hotel reception). If you’d rather do your sightseeing by day, and on a budget, rent a tuk-tuk or motorized rickshaw, and ask for an hour’s tour of Old Town. Most drivers will be happy to oblige, though you’ll need your Rough Guide to Kenya to navigate the small area (less than half a square kilometre).

Get off the Mombasa Highway in the Kibwezi Forest or the Taita Hills

Most visitors treat the notoriously dangerous and traffic-jammed Mombasa Highway with a degree of fear and loathing. But it has some truly worthwhile sidetracks that you’d be mad to pass up. Most impressive of these is the outstandingly beautiful Umani Springs, a designer lodge in the almost unvisited Kibwezi forest, nearly half way to the coast. Shaded by huge acacia and fig trees, three temple-like cottages, built of local lava stone, accommodate up to ten people each. There’s even a good team of staff to cook the food you bring, leaving you to watch the local wildlife or laze in the huge, spring-fed swimming pool. However, it’s tricky to manage if you’re travelling by public transport, so pause your trip to the coast at Voi and take a matatu (minibus) into the cool, fir-clad Taita Hills, with their fascinating ancestral skull caves and dramatic executions (murderers were once hurled from a cliff to their meet their death). You can stay cheaply in the friendly little town of Wundanyi.

Head south into the Rift Valley

From Nairobi, everyone thinks of the Rift Valley as north of the city, focused around tourist hotspots like Lake Naivasha with its gardens and boat trips, or Lake Nakuru with its busy national park. But, if you head south – driving yourself or in a limited selection of beaten-up buses or taxi vans – you can explore an equally fascinating but almost unvisited stretch of the Great Rift. First possible stop is Whistling Thorns – much like an English Lake District youth hostel, but with ostriches and gazelles instead of sheep. Then, as you plunge down the dramatic face of the escarpment, you head out onto arid plains where there’s a great prehistoric stone-tool site, Olorgasailie, with cheap camping and cottages. Finally, you reach the bizarre soda pans of Lake Magadi, where a factory town supports a major chemical industry. There’s a beautiful public swimming pool and excellent bird life near the hot springs, and a few options for staying if you don’t have a tent.

Explore the north in a 4×4

If you have a week, you can rent a Land Rover or Land Cruiser and head north. The fast and empty new road from Isiolo to Merille (half way from Isiolo to Marsabit) is a dream to drive, with a magnificent landscape of rocky buttes breaking the horizon. Three hours past tarmac’s end, Mount Marsabit, an old “shield volcano” emerging out of the desert, is swathed in thick forest surrounding hidden crater lakes. You can camp here, or there’s a basic lodge. The town of Marsabit itself is a cultural melting pot, as is the whole eastern flank of Lake Turkana. The drive to the lake, through the remote mission station and trading post of North Horr, is a great adventure, across stony wastes and through nomadic pastoral communities where camels tend to have right of way. If you have only a day or two with a 4×4, you could travel between Thika and Naivasha, just north of Nairobi, along a rarely used forest track where elephants push trees across the road (take a winch and an axe).

Swim with whale sharks or become acquainted with baboons

If your safari has given you a taste for close encounters of the furred (or finned) kind, you might consider swimming with whale sharks, just south of Mombasa. Wildlife immersion doesn’t get much more immersive than slipping underwater to snorkel alongside these gentle giants. In a controversial tourism / conservation project, twice a year two young sharks (a mere five to seven metres in length) are towed into a marine pen twice the size of a football pitch, just off the beach at Waa. You pay around $150 (£105) to snorkel with them for an hour, with 30% of the proceeds going to whale shark conservation. Back on dry land, at Il Polei Group Ranch in Laikipia, north of Mount Kenya, you can visit a troop of baboons in the wild, where a long-term social study of the animals has meant humans and primates can walk together during a 2-hour dawn or dusk excursion ($80 for groups of up to four).

Go clubbing in Nairobi or grab your blankets and wine

For clubbing of the musical kind, Nairobi is your best bet. The steadily reviving Central Business District has a small grid of streets that stream with revellers every weekend, encouraged by a bit of street lighting and the security that numbers bring. For city centre DJs, booze and choma (roast meat), Zanzebar, on the 5th floor of Kenya Cinema Plaza on Moi Avenue, has a very local flavour. More stylish and youthful is the pumping Tribeka, on the corner of Banda and Kimathi streets, and Tree House at Museum Hill roundabout has been a solid address for live music for the last couple of years. For something a little different, the monthly music festival of no fixed abode Blankets and Wine has become a diary anchor point for lots of affluent young Nairobians.

Train with warriors  – rigorous or lite

On most safaris in Kenya you’re likely to meet Maasai warriors, and soon realise this is no dressing-up club but a part of every Maasai man’s life. Your guide may wear shirt and trousers in town, but in the bush he’ll wear a robe and carry a spear and sword. The training for this age grade is long and arduous, but you can now sample the lifestyle at a number of camps. For the most engaging warrior training experience, sign up for a 3-to-7-day programme with Laikipiak Maasai warriors at Bush Adventures Camp. On the Il Ngwesi Group Ranch, in northern Kenya, you’ll learn to shoot with a bow, throw clubs and engage in Maasai repartee. For a quicker, low budget taste of the action, closer to Nairobi, the low-key Maji Moto Eco-Camp, in the greater Mara ecosystem, includes warrior-training – stick throwing, dancing, singing, tracking – with every stay in its tidy dome tents.

Find a festival – at Lake Turkana, the Rift Valley or Lamu

Talking of festivals, Kenya has fewer major events than you’d perhaps imagine, or hope for, but the handful of reliable annual fixtures is worth pinning a safari round. Pre-eminent is the Lake Turkana Festival in May, a colourful cultural jamboree in one of the country’s most remote towns. Much easier to reach is the Rift Valley Festival in August, a more European-style music festival on the shores of Lake Naivasha. On the far-flung shores of the Indian Ocean, the Lamu Festival, held every November, sees the whole of this old Swahili town taking part in donkey and dhow races, traditional stick fights, processions, beach barbecues and crafts displays.

The 10th edition of the Rough Guide to Kenya was published in May 2013. 

Home to over a million plants and more than five thousand different species from around the world, the iconic “biomes” (gigantic greenhouses) at the Eden Project are the focus of the UK’s premier green attraction. Built on the site of a former clay quarry, the Rainforest Biome houses plants from tropical islands, Malaysia, West Africa and South America, while the smaller biome displays citrus, olives, herbs and vines from the Mediterranean, the rich variety of proteas and aloes from southern Africa, drifts of colourful Californian poppies and lupins, and shrubs of the chaparral. Visitors are guided along the walkways by species labels and explanatory notes that describe how the plants are used for medicine, food and biofuel, and how a vision of a sustainable future is pinned to their survival.

Each year over a million people visit the Eden Project, many of whom arrive by bike, bus or train. It is by far the most successful visitor attraction in the southwest of England, largely thanks to the vision of chief executive Tim Smit (the man behind the Lost Gardens of Heligan) and also the ideas and labour of over five hundred staff, most of whom come from the local area.

On most days throughout the summer the Eden Project hosts attractions and events including theatre, workshops, art displays, gardening talks, children’s events and music festivals. All the facilities are managed with sustainability in mind. The food in the cafés is local and organic; food waste is composted and used in the gardens; rainwater is harvested and used to irrigate the plants and flush the loos; and you get a discount if you arrive on foot or by bicycle.

The nearest train station is St Austell, from where there’s a shuttle bus to the Eden Project. Admission is free for children under 15. www.edenproject.com; +44 (0) 1726 811 911. Green places to stay nearby include Cornish Tipi Holidays and Cornish Yurt Holidays, Higher Lank Farm and Trelowarren.

 

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The road to Corcovado National Park was once paved with gold – lots of gold – and although most of it was carried off by the Diqui Indians, miners still pan here illegally. These days, though, it’s just an unpaved track that fords half a dozen rivers during the bone-rattling two-hour ride from the nearest town, Puerto Jiménez, and which runs out at Carate, the southern gateway to the park.

The journey in doesn’t make an auspicious start to a hike in Corcovado – and it gets worse. Trekking here is not for the faint-hearted: the humidity is one hundred percent, there are fast-flowing rivers to cross and the beach-walking that makes up many of the hikes can only be done at low tide. Cantankerous peccaries roam the woods, and deadly fer-de-lance and bushmaster snakes slip through the shrub.

But you’re here because Corcovado is among the most biologically abundant places on Earth, encompassing thirteen ecosystems, including lowland rainforests, highland cloudforests, mangrove swamps, lagoons and coastal and marine habitats. And it’s all spectacularly beautiful, even by the high standards of Costa Rica.

Streams trickle down over beaches pounded by Pacific waves, where turtles (hawksbill, leatherback and Olive Ridley) lay their eggs in the sand and where the shore is dotted with footprints – not human, but tapir, or possibly jaguar. Palm trees hang in bent clumps, and behind them the forest rises up in a 60m wall of dense vegetation.

Corcovado has the largest scarlet macaw population in Central America, and the trees flash with bursts of their showy red, blue and yellow plumage. One hotel in the area offers free accommodation if visitors don’t see one during their stay – it’s never happened. And after the first sighting of the birds flying out from the trees in perfectly coordinated pairs, the long journey to reach Corcovado seems a short way to come.

It’s best to visit Corcovado during its dry season (Dec–March). Meals and camping space or lodging need to be booked six weeks in advance (+506 257-2239, [email protected]).

 

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It’s a clear, moonless night when we assemble for our pilgrimage to the beach. I can’t understand how we are going to see anything in the blackness, but the guide’s eyes seem to penetrate even the darkest shadows. We begin walking, our vision adjusting slowly.

We’ve come to Tortuguero National Park, in northeast Costa Rica, to witness sea turtles nesting. Once the domain of only biologists and locals, turtle-watching is now one of the more popular activities in ecotourism-friendly Costa Rica. As the most important nesting site in the western Caribbean, Tortuguero sees more than its fair share of visitors – the annual number of observers has gone from 240 in 1980 to over 50,000 today.

The guide stops, points out two deep furrows in the sand – the sign of a turtle’s presence – and places a finger to his lips, making the “shhh” gesture. The nesting females can be spooked by the slightest noise or light. He gathers us around a crater in the beach; inside it is an enormous creature. We hear her rasp and sigh as she brushes aside sand for her nest.

In whispers, we comment on her plight: the solitude of her task, the low survival rate of her hatchlings – only one of every 5000 will make it past the birds, crabs, sharks, seaweed and human pollution to adulthood.

We are all mesmerized by the turtle’s bulk. Though we are not allowed to get too close, we can catch the glint of her eyes. She doesn’t seem to register our presence at all. The whirring sound of discharged sand continues. After a bit the guide moves us away. My eyes have adapted to the darkness now, and I can make out other gigantic oblong forms labouring slowly up the beach – a silent, purposeful armada.

Tortuguero National Park is 3–4hr north of Limón by boat. Independent travellers must buy tickets for the park and arrange for a certified tour guide.

 

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Despite its industrial heritage Glasgow is actually one of the greenest cities in Europe, writes Helen Ochyra.

Clip clop. I am travelling at nineteenth-century speeds along the main road of a country estate. On one side are formal gardens, planted with shaped hedges in lush greens, on the other, open fields dotted with dun-coloured Highland cattle. As two tall Clydesdale horses, Baron and Duke, pull my cart through the bucolic scenery I feel a million miles away from anything remotely urban – and yet we are just three miles outside of what was once the UK’s greatest industrial city.

This is Glasgow, and it is full of surprises – many of them green. Although this is Scotland’s largest urban area, it is also home to more than 90 parks and gardens. In fact, Glasgow has more green spaces per capita than any other European city, and as you stroll along handsome Victorian streets or pass over the river that was once the centre of the British Empire’s shipbuilding industry, you are never far from a grassy square or a patch of parkland.

Pollok Park is the city’s biggest, at 360 acres, and the horse and cart rides are the best way to take in its vast scale. The park was gifted to the city in 1966 by Anne Maxwell MacDonald and represents the core of what was once an extensive family estate. Visitors can explore the Category B listed walled garden, laid out 250 years ago as a kitchen garden and orchard, and see plants discovered in the Himalayas by Sir John Stirling Maxwell in the woodland garden.

But the highlight of Pollok Park is its “fold” (group) of Highland cattle – the most accessible in Scotland. The Maxwell family bred prizewinning cattle on the estate in the nineteenth century and today the tradition continues. I am thrilled to meet the newest addition in the cattle shed, although his older stablemate’s long curved horns put me off getting too close. These are animals bred to endure the hardy conditions of Highland Scotland and I wouldn’t mess with them.

Back in the city centre, I find myself actively encouraged to mess with nature. I am spending the afternoon exploring the Botanic Gardens – but not just to look at the wide variety of plantlife found here. I am here to find dinner. Chris Charalambous, head chef of Cail Bruich restaurant, has been using foraged food in his dishes for about three years. He tells me that in Scotland there is the right to roam and that anything found growing wild can be picked, as long as it is for your own consumption.

I am a little sceptical but within just a few minutes of walking through the shaded woodland alongside the Kelvin River, Chris is rustling through the undergrowth and handing me leaves that have the unmistakable smell of garlic. I find myself gingerly nibbling one minute, happily munching the next, and by the time we return to the restaurant, I am converted.

Chris brings out trays groaning with produce foraged from right here in Glasgow. We try nettles, scurvy grass, wild chervil and gorse flowers. Every ingredient has a different flavour, from those reminiscent of fresh grass to those that shock with wasabi, and I am already thinking up ways to use Scotland’s bounty in my cooking at home.

I return to the Botanic Gardens to walk it all off and find myself immediately swallowed up by greenery. The gardens cover a whopping 42 acres and link the city to the West Highland Way. I explore the arboretum and stroll past blooming herbaceous borders arranged in chronological order of when the plants were introduced to Britain. It is highly educational, but also simply beautiful and again I forget that I am in the heart of a city.

The following day I take the short hop out to Glasgow’s loch, Loch Lomond. It is just 30 minutes by car, travelling alongside the river Clyde, and I am out of the city and into the countryside within minutes. At the loch all is quiet. In the distance the Highlands rise up, climbing into the sky as far as the eye can see. It is hard to take it all in from ground level and so I board a seaplane to take a flight over one of Scotland’s most famous landscapes.

All photos within the article by Helen Ochyra.

It is truly spectacular. Take off is smooth and suddenly we are sailing over the water looking down on the islands and hills below. This is the Highland Boundary Fault, the fault line that divides the Lowlands from the Highlands, and it is immediately obvious. On one side there are rolling hills, on the other rugged mountains.

And then I realize that that is Glasgow in the distance. A vast urban centre planted right in the middle of some of the world’s most dazzling scenery. The Gaelic translation of Glasgow is “Dear Green Place” and finally I can see why. Glasgow is competing to be crowned European Green Capital for 2015, and it’s certainly got my vote.

For more information on Glasgow visit www.seeglasgow.com.  

Sahara Desert, Morocco

Sleep beneath the twinkling Saharan stars, accompanied by a few irascible dromedaries. You can explore the desert as part of a tour (usually setting off from Marrakesh, and heading up and over the beautiful Atlas Mountains), and choose your level of comfort, from simple canvas tents to luxurious Berber pavilions, complete with soft beds, rugged floors and handcrafted furniture.

Corsica, France

The GR20 is a challenging trek snaking diagonally across the French island of Corsica. Depending on how much of the 180km path you choose to tackle, the hike requires stamina, and a few nights bedding down in refuges (mountain huts) or under canvas nearby. Admittedly, if you like to camp in seclusion, this might not be for you: in peak season, the refuges and accompanying camping grounds get very busy – but the walking and spectacular countryside more than compensates.

Mount Everest, Nepal

Mount Everest needs no introduction, and nor does Everest Base Camp. At 5364m, it’s the highest campsite in the world, the bedtime target for tough hikers en route to the top of the giant mountain. The landscape up here is harsh and inhospitable, but Base Camp retains a cheerful mood with its little domed tents decked with multi-coloured flags.

The Lake District, UK

The shimmering lakes and sheep-studded hills of the Lake District provide a glorious, bucolic backdrop for a slumber beneath canvas. The whole area is peppered with campsites, perfect for families, hikers and nature-lovers. Buttermere, Ambleside, Borrowdale and Grasmere are particularly gorgeous camping spots.

The Outback, Australia

Camping in Australia generally means “bushcamping” – proper back-to-basics stuff, with no amenities to speak of. However, if you do like your water running, a shower to douse yourself in and a barbecue to fire up, there are also plenty of caravan parks (aka holiday parks). Wherever you go, you’re sure to feel humbled by the enormity and breathtaking beauty of Oz’s rust-red outback.

Yellowstone National Park, USA

Yellowstone has long been a favourite camping area for visitors keen to see the world’s largest collection of geysers, including Old Faithful. There are 12 official campgrounds in the park offering basic amenities (you can reserve a pitch in advance at 5 of them), but if you’re after real solitude among the pine-clad hills, then make for the backcountry, where you’ll find smaller, quieter designated camping spots.

Wild Camping, Iceland

Not only is wild camping in Iceland a phenomenal experience, it also helps to keep more pennies in the wallet, which is a hard task in a country this pricey. Wherever you decide to pitch your tent, make sure you’ve got permission from the nearest farmhouse. The national parks – like Skaftafell and Jökulsárgljúfur – provide Scandi scenery par excellence… wildflowers, spiked mountain ridges and hulking icy glaciers.

Milford Sound, New Zealand

Rudyard Kipling waxed lyrical about Milford Sound in New Zealand’s Fiordland, dubbing it the “eighth wonder of the world”. Its beauty is not lost on the general public, so to enjoy this incredible area it’s best to camp there for a night or two. Campsites sit within the bush, which offers fantastic walking right on your “doorstep”, as well as next to trout-filled rivers (bring your rod) and glacial lakes perfect for a refreshing dip.

Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides

Scotland + camping = midges. The Isle of Harris might not be the mainland, but there are still clouds of midges in force up there. Just to warn you. However, the stunning Hebridean landscape – sandy dunes and soft sea grasses, and a rugged, mountainous interior – is irresistible for a hardy camper.

Acatenango Volcano, Guatemala

Acatenango last blew its top in 1972. That’s really not so long ago, but if you have faith in the old mountain, head on up. The ascent takes you through cultivated farmland, followed by cloud forest and then alpine forest, before finally leading you into barren volcanic landscape. You can camp en route, but if you’re feeling brave, bed down in the crater itself. Just watch for bubbling magma…

Hokkaido Island, Japan

Hokkaido Island, Japan’s most northern and remote island, feels distinctly “un-Japanese” and arguably more European (possibly thanks to the lavender, pictured). It’s not particularly touristy, instead being the preserve of Japanese city folk keen to escape the chaos of urban living for a few nights in the wilderness, surrounded by bubbling hot springs, dense forest and gleaming lakes.

Masoala National Park, Madagascar

The main attraction of a camping trip in Madagascar is undoubtedly the wildlife: from red-ruffed lemurs and goggle-eyed chameleons, not to mention the dubious-looking (but still quite cute) aye-ayes, that dwell within the varied ecosystems of Masoala National Park, you’re guaranteed a sighting of at least one exotic beast.

Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

Drifting off to sleep with the sound of grunting hippos in your ears is an interesting experience, but that’s what an overnight trip to Kenya’s Masai Mara is all about. Standards of camping in the national reserve vary – from petal-flecked honeymooning pavilions to more basic “army-style” tents – but it’s the breathtaking landscape and awe-inspiring animal life that matter most here.

Gower Peninsula, Wales

The Gower Peninsula in Wales is famed for its beautiful coastline – and how better to appreciate it than from your canvas shelter overlooking the rolling waves and butterscotch sand. Surfers (surfing conditions are great round here) and families make up the majority of the camping demographic – it’s what idyllic UK holidays are made of.

Grand Canyon, USA

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon, being closest to travel links, is the most visited section, so if you want to avoid heavy camping crowds, head for the North Rim – though be aware that the tourist season here is shorter, due to less favourable weather. Dawn is a spectacular time to witness the majestic Canyon come to life: as the sun rises, the landscape shows off its fiery furnace colours.

Taman Negara, Malaysia

This swathe of tropical rainforest in Malaysia’s interior makes for a wonderful hiking and camping experience. There are masses of trails – from easy boardwalk strolls to tougher day-treks – but wherever you go, you’ll come across spectacular wildlife like monkeys, elephants, tapir and mouse deer. Less attractive are the leeches, which you’ll need to prepare yourself for. Basic campsites are scattered throughout the park, mostly next to rivers.

Swiss Alps, Switzerland

Fresh alpine air tinged with the scent of wild pine, undulating meadows cloaked with cheery wildflowers and crystal-clear, ice-cold streams trickling down mountain-sides – who could resist such a wholesome camping backdrop? The Swiss Alps have plenty of gorgeous campsites at varying altitudes, offering perfectly peaceful night-time stopovers.

Fraser Island, Australia

Fraser Island – the world’s largest sand island – is about 300km north of Brisbane and home to some incredibly beautiful beaches as well a number of dingoes. Days are filled with an invigorating concoction of swimming, fishing, walking and boating, and at night you’ll be lulled to sleep by the peaceful sounds of the great outdoors just outside your tent.

Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru

Back away from the Inca Trail: the Cordillera Huayhuash means serious Peruvian trekking. Remote and rugged, the Cordillera is part of the Andes mountain range, and comes with accordingly high altitude. Over the years, security and infrastructure here has improved to allow ambitious trekkers and campers access to this challenging and impossibly beautiful terrain.

Glastonbury, UK

This image (dating from 2005) is in no way meant to put you off from camping at Glastonbury, the world’s biggest and best green-field music festival…but it would be reckless to go without expecting a least a little British downpour at some point. Nothing can match the sight of thousands of exuberant festival-goers descending on the picturesque Vale of Avalon in Somerset in June.

Kayaking with seals at Walvis Bay, Namibia

Most people come to Swakopmund, a Bavarian-style town surreally out of place on the edge of the Namib Desert, to explore the vast dunes. Few who visit know that the sandy Atlantic shallows of nearby Walvis Bay are also home to 2500 cape fur seals – one of the country’s last remaining colonies – as well as a resident population of diminutive benguela dolphins.

Namyak Namibia, a tour operator based in a community crafts shop in the centre of Swakopmund, offers kayak trips in the bay. Canoeing among the seals in the early morning is a joyous experience: the seals surround the canoes and leap across the bows, while the pups look up at you like labradors waiting for a stick to be thrown. The dolphins are a little more circumspect, but will swim alongside, weaving this way and that only so long as you paddle furiously enough to keep up with them.

For details of excursions and rates see www.nam-c-yak.com.

Kayaking on Lake Malawi

Exhilarating as paddling across Lake Malawi is, it’s important from time to time just to sit still and allow the waters around you to become calm. When that happens, it’s like peering down into a giant aquarium, filled with fish of every conceivable colour. The cichlids alone, of which Lake Malawi has six hundred species, are so dazzlingly various that they are sometimes given the name peacock fish.

Kayak Africa, based in laid-back Cape Maclear, employs fishermen from the nearby village of Chembe as guides, to share their lifetime’s understanding of the lake and the many islets and caves that line its shore. Accommodation is at exclusive bushcamps on either Mumbo or Domwe, otherwise deserted tropical islands so picture-perfect that the urge is to play Robinson Crusoe and not come home. Spend a few evenings on the empty beach, enjoying your freshly caught dinner and watching the lights from the fishermen’s boats flicker on the darkening horizon, and that feeling will only get stronger.

Cape Maclear is a bumpy 115km bus ride from the capital Lilongwe. For tour details and rates see www.kayakafrica.co.za.

Canoeing the Danube Delta, Romania

 

Paddling through the vast Danube delta, almost 3000km from where the river began in Germany’s Black Forest, offers the chance to combine some of the best birdwatching in Europe with visits to communities little touched by industrialization. Each spring hundreds of species ranging from spoonbills to warblers migrate here from the southern hemisphere, when the area’s vast silence is broken by their songs and mating calls. In the autumn, huge flocks again gather here to prepare for the long journey south. On canoe trips with Barefoot Tours through this vast maze of channels, forests, sand dunes and reeds, you’ll have the advantage of approaching on the water almost noiselessly, enabling you to get close to the birds without disturbing them or their habitat.

Tours last anything from a day to a week, with nights spent at homestays and lodges in the villages of Tulcea, Crisan and the curiously named Mila 23, all of which are accessible only by water; the main mode of transport in each is canoe. Staying here gives you plenty of opportunity to learn about the locals’ work harvesting reeds and fishing. If you can, it’s worth coming for at least a few days to allow yourself to drift into the gentle, age-old rhythm of the river and the lives of the people here.

For details of tours, prices, availability and getting there see www.barefoot-tours.com.

Kayaking around the Maddalena Archipelago, Sardinia

Much has been written about the celebrity highlife of Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda, as well as the island’s traditional cuisine and its distinctive character and customs. Less well known is that Sardinia has some of the best-conserved coastline in the Mediterranean, thanks to government legislation that bans building property within 2km of the sea around the entire island.

One of the best ways to enjoy Sardinia’s coastline is by sea kayak. Away from the hum of the pleasure boats, paddling under your own steam, you can reach some of the island’s most unspoilt beaches. In particular, the protected islands of the Maddalena Archipelago in the Straits of Bonifacio between Corsica and northeastern Sardinia provide excellent conditions for an island-hopping kayaking adventure. There are seven main islands (five are uninhabited) and over fifty islets around which you can paddle for days in warm, translucent water, searching for that ideal spot to land along the wind-blown granite coastline – home to gulls, cormorants and herons.

British-run Location Sardinia hires out kayaks, and also organizes week-long kayaking trips around the archipelago, including accommodation and guide. For further info see www.locationsardinia.com.

Sea kayaking along the Dalmatian Coast, Croatia

A necklace of islands licked by glimmering waters, Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast is one of Europe’s most beautiful shorelines. And by far the best way to explore it is to get in a kayak and paddle out, meandering leisurely between the islands as you sit a few centimetres above the water, taking a dip in the glassy sea or soaking up the sun on empty, white-sand beaches. Adriatic Kayak Tours, an organization based in Dubrovnik, offers small-group trips lasting from a few hours to a whole week; they also run quirky themed tours such as “Cliffs and Caves” and a “Wine and Cheese Sunset Paddle”. At the end of each salty, tiring but exhilarating day, knowledgeable guides direct weary canoeists to family-run restaurants where freshly caught seafood and local meats are dished up alongside liberal quantities of local wine. The bling may be returning to Dubrovnik, but Croatia’s real jewels are still to be found out to sea.

For more on the types of tours offered, reservations and frequently asked questions see www.adriatickayaktours.com.

Camping and kayaking in the Summer Isles, Scotland

 

The protected sandy beaches and shallow shores of the Summer Isles are perfect places to land a kayak and pitch a tent for the night. If you like the idea, canoeing tours organized by Wilderness Scotland make for an excellent choice: there can’t be many trips that leave so little trace behind them.

The journey begins and ends at Inverness train station, where you’re taken by minibus across the northwest of Scotland to Achiltibuie, the launchpad to the Summer Isles. Paddling 12–14km daily for five days, guests are led along the rugged coastline of this remote archipelago, under sea arches and over water surges between narrow channels of rocks. You pass the dramatic sandstone cliffs of Eilean Flada Mar and its outlying skurries, the dramatic peaks of Assynt, the island of Eilean Mullagrach and the wildlife reserve of Isle Ristol. Along the way, you may see dolphins, whales, seals and a huge variety of birds, including golden eagles. After setting up camp late in the afternoon on one of the many islands, dinner is prepared and eaten in a communal tipi before retiring to your tent under a clear night’s sky.

Wilderness Scotland offers a range of guided and non-guided activity holidays across Scotland, including walking, sailing and mountain biking. For details of these see www.wildernessscotland.com.

Sea kayaking the Baltic

Over fifty million migratory birds visit Estonia each year, with many rare species – like the velvet scoter and red-breasted merganser – settling on the country’s northern islands to breed. These wildlife havens were the chance consequence of Soviet deportations in the 1950s to allow military tests to take place: when the locals were forced out, the birds began to move in.

You can explore this twitcher’s paradise on guided kayak tours with Reimann Retked, an adventure-holiday specialist certified by the Estonian Ecotourism Association. You can paddle from island to island, approaching the birds without disturbing them, or leave the canoes onshore and hike over the flat scrubland. The latter can be somewhat eerie, as these islands are still dotted with crumbling farmhouses and deserted Soviet watchtowers, half-rusted by the salty air. Covered in white gulls against a setting sun, though, they make for a great photograph.

As well as sea kayaking, Reimann Retked offers rafting, snow-shoeing, bogwalking and kicksledding tours. For full details and prices, see www.retked.ee.

Canoeing the Ba Be Lakes, Vietnam

As your guide paddles out of the dim, stalagtite-filled cave and onto the shimmering lake, the air fills with the roar of the distant Dau Dang waterfall. On all sides the tree-covered limestone cliffs loom overhead, their dense vegetation seeming to merge into the jade-coloured water. You’re a long way north of Hanoi and it feels like it.

Canoeing on the tranquil Ba Be Lakes with Footprints Vietnam (an operator staffed by local Vietnamese that works directly with the villages you visit) is a nature retreat like few others. Ba Be means “three seas” – a reference to the three natural lakes that spread over an area 7km long and 1km wide – and three-day boat trips on this wide expanse of water typically stop by caves and waterfalls, and include a stay in the homes of the Tay people who live beside the lake. The Tay, most of whom are farmers or fishermen, live in houses on stilts perched over the edge of the water – and it’s in one of these that you’ll eat and sleep, looking out over the bamboo-lined lake as fishermen pass by at dusk in their wooden canoes.

The best time to go is September to April. The lakes are around six hours’ drive from Hanoi, though Footprints Vietnam and other operators will drive you from the capital. For details of tours and rates see www.footprintsvietnam.com.


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