The brakes grind then release and you’re off, squeaking and squealing down a roller-coaster-like track for what might just be the train ride of your life. This is the Flåmsbana, a shiny, pine-green pleasure train that plunges nearly a kilometre in a mere fifty minutes. The unforgettable ride takes you from the heady frozen heights of the Norwegian mountains in Myrdal right down to the edge of the icy-blue waters of the Aurlandsfjord in the picturesque village of Flåm.

On the train, the old-fashioned carriage interior is wood-panelled and fitted with wide, high-backed benches which transport you back to the 1920s when the train was first built; it took over four years to lay the 20km track which spirals and zigzags down around hairpin bends and through twenty hand-dug tunnels during the course of its short journey. As you might imagine the views are spectacular; to accommodate this, enormous, over-sized windows were fitted to ensure you don’t miss a thing, regardless of where you happen to be seated.

As it runs all year, the train is a lifeline in the winter months for fjord inhabitants who were previously cut off by the long frozen winters. But for the best views, stick to late spring and summer when the ice and snow-melt create majestic,
crashing waterfalls (don’t miss the close-range view of Kjosfossen) that seem to leap and spring from every crevice in the sheer, verdant cliffs.

The Flåmsbana offers an experience that’s at the same time glamorous, hair-raising and magical. The dizzy inclines and thunderous soundtrack of crashing waterfalls will give even the most seasoned rider a shiver of excitement, and if you can’t help but conjure up images of runaway trains, just remember there are five independent sets of brakes – a necessary precaution and a very reassuring feature.

To get to the Flåmsbana take the train from Bergen to Myrdal (via Voss). You can buy your ticket all the way through to Flåm at the Bergen train station, which means you’ll be able to jump right on the train when you arrive in Myrdal. Visit www.flaamsbana.no for more.

 

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Rough Guides writer Steve Vickers casts an eye over the big travel topics and unpicks the top stories of the week.

Thousands apply for one-way trip to Mars

More than 200,000 people have applied for the chance to help colonise Mars. Just four of the applicants will be picked for the first one-way mission being planned by the Dutch non-profit group Mars One, which could reach the red planet by 2023. After enduring the seven-month journey, successful applicants will be expected to spend the rest of their lives on Mars, where dust storms, freezing temperatures and high levels of radiation pose a constant threat to their survival.

But I reckon the really scary part would be growing old on a faraway rock, with applicants like these for company

Suite, if you can afford it

While the rest of us trawl the web for cheap hotels and flights that don’t involve a 4am start, the world’s wealthiest travellers are splashing out on increasingly daft levels of luxury.

Take the newly unveiled royal suite at St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort in Abu Dhabi. Spread over more than two thousand square metres, it has a grand piano, an outdoor pool and ­­– for those who want to pay £22,500 for a night in a hotel and waste it watching Toy Story – its own private cinema. Super-expensive tours of whole countries and continents are also gaining popularity. Abercrombie & Kent’s latest, which takes travellers across Africa in a private jet, costs an eye-watering £50,000 per person (based on two sharing) for just 19 days of travel.

Could anyone justify spending so much on a journey across the world’s poorest continent? Apparently so. The first trip sold out within weeks, and now a second one is planned.

Tourism boom predicted for Japan

With news of Tokyo’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympics still ringing in their ears, tour operators have predicted a boom in the number of trips to the Land of the Rising Sun. Their cause will be helped by the work of Visit Japan, which is continuing with its ambitious plan to attract 25 million foreign visitors per year by 2020. To give you some perspective, that’s more than three times the number that arrived in 2010, the year before 2011’s disastrous earthquake and tsunami.

So if you want to avoid the worst of the crowds, and don’t mind missing the hype around the Games, consider going now. The value of the yen has dropped considerably since the start of the year, making it a relatively cheap time to visit, and the start of autumn – when trees burst into shades of red and gold – is every bit as beautiful as the more famous cherry blossom season.

Christmas with Santa

Where would you like to spend Christmas? If the answer is “on Santa’s knee”, then check this out: it’s now possible to pay the beardy one a yuletide visit on a four-night trip to Enontekiö with Transun, in Finnish Lapland. Arriving two days before Christmas, you’ll have the chance to herd reindeer, ride a snowmobile and go tobogganing amid frozen forest scenery, before taking a sleigh ride to meet the big man himself.

If you want to avoid the Christmas stuff but still fancy a wintry break in the area, try local company Adventure by Design, which runs cross-country skiing lessons and snowshoeing trips that give you a good chance of spotting swirling green auroras.

Could zeppelins make a comeback?

Flying by airship was once considered the height of luxury, but quickly lost its appeal after the Hindenburg disaster. Aeros, a firm based in Los Angeles, is hoping to bring zeppelins back into vogue. The firm has just been given permission to conduct test flights with a vast, 81-metre-long craft called Aeroscraft, which can fly for up to 3,100 nautical miles without refuelling, hitting a top speed of 138mph.

That’s slow compared with a jumbo, but the zeppelin has a distinct advantage over planes: it can take off and land vertically, like a helicopter, from just about anywhere. For now at least, the idea is that Aeroscrafts will be used for delivering cargo to hard-to-reach places like oil rigs. But there’s also potential for transforming the zeppelins into flying hotels that take in famous landmarks and natural wonders as they cruise through the skies.

Final call

Each edition of Arrivals ends with a pretty piece of travel inspiration, and this one was made possible by Norway’s curious ‘slow TV’ phenomenon.

After filming (and broadcasting) a 10-hour train journey along the country’s northernmost railway line, Norwegian broadcaster NRK released this clever mash-up, which skips between the seasons as the train edges further north. Don’t panic; this version is only 63 seconds long.

If you’re keen, watch the full, 10-hour thing here, and read this for a background on slow TV: Norways Slow TV movement: so wrong its right.

Spotted an unusual travel story? Let us know on Twitter (@RoughGuides) or Facebook, or comment below.

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Rough Guides writer Steve Vickers casts an eye over the big travel topics and unpicks the top stories of the week.

More tourists welcome, but heavy planes are not

Climbers could soon be getting their crampons into five additional Nepalese peaks over 8,000m. Currently, just eight of the country’s highest mountains are accessible, but overcrowding on Everest (and an understandable desire to grow the industry) has encouraged officials to open up new mountains.

The International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation is expected to make a decision about whether to approve expeditions on the new mountains at its annual summit (geddit?) this October.

If the new climbs are approved, increasing tourist numbers along the way, it’s not clear how well the country’s main airport will cope. Nepal’s civil aviation authority recently wrote to airlines using Tribhuvan International in Kathmandu, asking them to stop landing wide-bodied aircraft there. It’s thought heavier planes could be to blame for the cracks and potholes discovered on the ailing runway in recent weeks.

Blingy ringy thingies

With plenty of time left to run, an inventive Kickstarter campaign called Sesame Ring has smashed its fundraising target. The idea? To create wearable rings that act like Oyster cards, saving passengers the trouble of ever losing their travel passes. A nice twist is that the rings are created using 3D printers, making them super easy to customise.

But the thought of being married to one transport network, with a ring and everything, doesn’t sit easily with me. I can imagine promising myself to the London Underground, and then throwing the ring away to have an illicit affair with Bangkok’s Skytrain.

For anyone who travels a lot, the only alternative would be to wear a different ring for every city. As I still value the use of my fingers, I think I’ll stick to having a wallet full of travel passes.

Art or porn?

Scandinavian hotel chain Nordic Choice has stopped giving its guests access to porn through on-demand TV stations. Yes, apparently that’s still a thing.

The chain’s owner, Petter Stordalen, reportedly reached the decision after getting involved with a Unicef campaign to help children affected by trafficking and sexual exploitation. “It’s a natural part of our social responsibility to not support an industry that contributes to trafficking,” he said.

Guests staying at the chain’s 171 hotels will instead be offered access to “high-end contemporary video art”. It’s a smart move, distancing Nordic Choice from a controversial industry. But with free, in-room wifi so widespread, it’s hard to imagine this kind of ban changing guests’ viewing habits.

Northern flights

Summer is ending and tour operators are already hard at work, trying to sell us winter breaks. Buried by the latest flurry of wintry PR was the news that fledgling Norwegian airline FlyNonStop will soon be launching flights from London City to Alta, in the far north of mainland Norway.

As well as being a prime spot for watching the Northern Lights, the Arctic town has a rich Sami culture and thousands of prehistoric rock carvings on its doorstep. Best of all, the town’s sheltered location on the edge of a plunging fjord keeps temperatures mild. Well, for the Arctic.

Now for the bad news: the flights are not quite as direct as the airline’s name suggests (there’s a touchdown en-route at Bodø), and they are only available as part of a pricey package that includes a stay at the Sorrisniva igloo hotel.

Trips start in January. For information and prices contact The White Circle.

Disneyland in Africa

Hyperinflation and unrest scared tourists away, but Zimbabwe is hoping to win them back with a £193m theme park near Victoria Falls. The attraction, described by Zimbabwe’s tourism minister as “Disneyland in Africa”, is likely to include hotels, restaurants and conference facilities. Plans are still vague, but making anything manmade look good beside a natural wonder like Victoria Falls could be tricky.

New Year in North Korea

Tourists making the trip to North Korea usually arrive on flights from China, but new routes to the country could soon be opening up – including some from Europe.

Jo Song Gyu, director of the state-owned International Travel Company, promised new flights as part of a “bright future” for tourism in the impoverished country. The news follows an announcement by Koryo Tours, a British-run company based in Beijing, stating that North Korea is now open to foreign visitors all year round, including the previously ‘closed’ period between December and January.

Before you get carried away with plans for a wild New Year in Pyongyang though, remember that visitors still have to spend their trips in the company of government minders.

Final call

Lastly, here’s a gorgeously shot video reminding us that modern jet planes are incredibly graceful machines, capable of bringing people together – or tearing lives apart.

Wolfe Air Reel from 3DF on Vimeo.

Spotted an unusual travel story? Let us know on Twitter (@RoughGuides) or Facebook, or comment below.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Plunging from mountain to fjord on the Flamsbana features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

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As the summer holiday season winds down, September is the perfect time to get an off-peak deal or some late sun. Here are our choices for the best places to go on holiday in September. Add your own trip ideas below.

Surfing in North Devon, UK

For surfers steering board-laden camper vans down North Devon’s country lanes in search of perfect waves, September is a special month. The Atlantic breakers that chomp at the sandy coastline start gaining size, making flat days less likely, and the glassy water still holds some of the summer’s warmth. September is also when British kids return to school after their long summer break, bringing a welcome sense of quiet back to the beaches, B&Bs and cosy thatched pubs.

Wandering with the Berber in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco

With summer’s fierce heat fading and the winter snows yet to arrive, September is your chance to see the Atlas Mountains at their most colourful. Beyond the rug shops and sun-baked huts that dot the roads from Marrakech are gentle walking trails, which follow dry streams through plunging orange gorges and dusty mud-built villages. For longer and more challenging trips, including the taxing trek to the summit of Jebel Toubkal (4167m), you’d do well to enlist the help of the local Berber people, who know these mountains better than anyone.

The Feast of San Gennaro, New York, USA

It started as a small, one-day festival for Italian immigrants celebrating the martyrdom of Naples’ patron saint, but the Feast of San Gennaro is now one of New York’s biggest religious events. For 11 days each September, the streets of Little Italy fill with raucous music and sizzling street food stands, attracting around a million wide-eyed visitors. Some of these revellers are religious, but others only make the pilgrimage to gawp at the famous cannoli-eating competition, which takes place on the festival’s opening day.

Serbia’s second city without the crowds, Novi Sad, Serbia

Party people flock to Novi Sad in July, when the annual Exit Festival invades the city’s eighteenth-century fortress, which sits high above a bend in the Danube. Arrive in September, however, and the chances are you’ll be one of the only foreign visitors. Give Novi’s sad museums a miss and explore the area around Dunavska, with its busy gelato shops and quiet café courtyards. If the weather is still hot, cool off at Štrand – a wide beach with chilled bars and powder-fine sand leading down to the gently flowing river.

Free access to landmark buildings in Scotland, UK

You’ll avoid the worst of the summer crowds by visiting Scotland in September, and could save yourself some cash too. Accommodation prices drop like a tossed caber after the main August rush and the Scottish Civic Trust’s yearly architectural event – Doors Open Days – allows free access to new and historic buildings every weekend throughout September. Many of the homes, churches and castles taking part in the scheme are not usually open to public, and some open their doors for just one day every year.

Annual Nature Festival, Madeira, Portugal

For decades Madeira embraced its reputation as a winter retreat for sun-hungry pensioners, without ever really capitalizing on its greatest asset: nature. Now tourist officials are quite rightly making a song and dance about the sub-tropical island’s steamy mountain peaks, towering cliffs and fragrant eucalyptus forests. The annual Madeira Nature Festival, which kicks off in September, aims to get people out into some of these rarely visited spots through activities like canyoning, paragliding and swimming with wild dolphins.

Surprising street art in Stavanger, Norway

Although built on an oil rush and still a popular dropping-off point for luxury cruise liners, the super-rich city of Stavanger has a surprisingly diverse street culture. For local artists the highlight of the year is September’s Nuart Festival, when some of the world’s best-known graffiti stars rock up to create elaborate murals among the city’s pretty wooden houses. After more than a dozen of these annual events, Stavanger is now attracting international attention as one of Europe’s best – and most unusual – places to enjoy inventive street art.

Catch the start of the lobster season in Bohuslän, Sweden

Cold, clean and craggy: the coastline north of Gothenburg is a sweet spot for shellfish. In late September, when the lobster season begins, you can join local fishermen as they guide wooden boats between scattered granite islands, hauling up traps from the salty depths. Bruised autumn skies and circling seabirds make sailing here a special experience, but the big reward comes after a session in the sauna, when you can finally get your claws into the day’s catch.

For more travel inspiration, try our Inspire Me page. Find hostels for your September trip here and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

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Take a boat along the Ganges, Varanasi, India

Glide through the sacred waters as India’s holiest and oldest city eases itself into the new day. Bathed in an orange glow, the flights of stone ghats that line Varanasi’s shores are awash with gentle colour as brightly dressed pilgrims and residents perform puja, or respect, to the rising sun, wash laundry or take a morning dip in the river.

Hike up Machu Picchu, Peru

Leaving your sleeping bag for an hour or so’s hike up a mountain in the darkness may sound far from tempting but grab your headtorch and persevere. Despite the breathless, sticky ascent, arriving at Machu Picchu before the hordes of tourists is a privilege and watching the sun rise over the ancient Inca site is truly unforgettable.

Take a hot air balloon over Cappadocia, Turkey

Famed for its surreal landscape, a flight over Cappadocia is a mesmerising start to the day. Roused by a spine-tingling dawn call to prayer a kaleidoscope of brightly coloured hot-air balloons fill the brassy sky and sweep over the bizarre, lunar landscape of plunging valleys, high plateaus, burrowed dwellings and curious “fairy chimneys” – soft, dusty rock spires that jut 100ft skyward.

Watch America’s first sunrise on Cadillac mountain, USA

Regarded as the first place in America to catch the sun’s rays, hiking up Arcadia national park’s peak for the “nation’s first sunrise” is a beloved pastime. This may only be true in autumn and winter but for gutsy early-risers rewarded with vistas of an orange-hued sky above the deep blue Atlantic and Porcupine islands, the specifics don’t matter anymore.

Witness summer solstice at Stonehenge, England

Structurally aligned towards the point of sunrise at summer solstice, this annual spectacle draws an eclectic crowd to this mysterious ring of monoliths. No longer held back by official ropes, white-robed worshipping Druids, pagans on pilgrimage, perplexed families and partying teens crowd within the inner stone circle to witness the sunrise on the longest day of the year.

Float on the Amazon River, Bolivia

Cloaked in a humming, humid darkness and guided by torches, row through the river’s winding passages into a clearing. There, poised in the tranquil waters, watch as the sun rises from behind the dark silhouette of trees that crowd the shoreline. As the sky blends through yellows, oranges, pinks and purples, the mirror-like waters flood with colour.

Scale the roof of Africa, Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Numbing cold, high altitude thin-air and a midnight departure – the treacherous slog up to Uhuru, the summit of Africa’s highest peak, requires grim determination. But it’s certainly worth it; once at the summit the frosted darkness lifts and the hazy sun rises revealing the panoramic sweep of a seemingly limitless stretch of the Great Rift Valley as dawn breaks over Africa.

Watch a sunrise from space, Virgin Galactic

With its first commercial space flight planned for Christmas day, the awe-inspiring experience of watching a sunrise from space is one step closer for would-be astronauts. However, with tickets retailing at US$250,000 per seat (G-force training and invitations to Branson’s private island are included), for now this brave new age of “space tourism” is still the preserve of the stars.

Dawn tai chi on The Bund, Shanghai

A grand sweep of colonial edifices, imposing banks and flashy hotels, this was old Shanghai’s feverish commercial heart. Still frenetic today, the Bund is a blur of street vendors, tourists and commercial mayhem. At dawn, the strip is more serene. Join or watch as public tai chi sessions welcome the day with slowly circling arms and controlled contortions.

Rise above the clouds in Haleakala Nation Park, Hawaii

The enormous crater of the dormant Haleakala volcano lures daily sun-worshippers keen to experience daybreak from above the clouds. Being bundled into a bus at 3am may not sound tempting, but seeing a sunrise described by Mark Twain as the “sublimest spectacle” of his life, before coasting down the 28-miles to sea level by bike, will make the ceaseless yawning worthwhile.

Watch the sunrise at Uluru, Australia

Thanks to millions of camera-happy tourists, the image of Uluru can seem all too familiar, but watching dawn break over Australia’s icon is a unique experience. As the charcoal sky blends through purples, greens and blues, this great hulking monolith emerges from the darkness. Colours flit across its vast, sandstone surface, before the harsh daylight delivers it to a recognisable baked-orange hue.

Awake in Erg Chebbi, Morocco

A lolloping camel ride into Erg Chebbi’s drifting expanse of undulating, wind-blown sand dunes is high on many a traveller’s list when staying in Morocco. For pure isolation extend the camel trip and camp out under a frozen starry sky in a Berber tent. Then set your alarm early for a tranquil and mesmerising sunrise over the rippling, amber horizon.

Visit the temples of Bagan, Myanmar

Studded with 4000 temples across its 26-mile stretch of dusty plain, Myanmar’s ancient capital is most enchanting at dawn. Whether you stay on the ground or take to the sky in a hot-air balloon, the vistas enchant: as the sun’s rays seep through the hazy sky, ornate spires and pagodas partially cloaked in the low lying mist are slowly unveiled.

Haggle at Cai Rang Floating market, Vietnam

At 5am, the Mekong Delta’s biggest floating market is already a hive of activity. Approaching the market, the dawn illuminates a swarming armada of brightly painted boats, all laden with seasonal produce, weaving between each other in an intricate series of waterways. Despite the bustle, navigation is relatively easy, as each boat advertises its wares atop a bamboo mast.

Stare at the midnight sun, Svalbard, Norway

In few places does the rising sun hold such mystic allure as it does in this otherworldly land of barrenness. Aptly named the midnight sun, between May and August, this stark archipelago is flooded in continuous light. On crisp, clear nights the sun is blinding, yet on foggy nights it forms a red glowing orb that is eerily beautiful.

Rediscover Monument Valley, USA

Iconic since the John Ford movies, the harshly alluring Monument Valley is pure Wild West scenery. Yet if it all seems a bit too familiar, a dawn tour can show the area in a new light; as the sun rises, the 1200ft—high sandstone turrets, dramatic buttes and massive mesas pose anew as brooding shadows set against a crimson sky.

Be inspired on Mount Sinai, Egypt

A crowd of pilgrims, travellers and Bedouin guides gather atop Mount Sinai every night in preparation for one of the most inspiring sunrises imaginable. Wrap up and hunker down to watch as the rose-tinted light steals across the desert, picking out each rock formation and turning the terrain fiery-red.

Visit Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Increasingly congested, Cambodia’s iconic monument lures more travellers each year. Yet a crack-of-dawn start will ease the crowds and promises an unforgettable spectacle. As the sun begins its stately ascent, the famous monument is thrown into a shadowy outline, while the mirror-like water and brooding sky morph into a giant canvas awash with hues of pink, coral and crimson.

Animal watch on the savannah, Masai Mara, Kenya

Kenya’s best reserve is a rich expanse of undulating grassland, seasonal riverlets and abundant wildlife. Enthusiastic wildlife-watchers know that the savannah’s best before sunrise, when nocturnal animals are still busying about and the big cats go in for the kill. And it’s stunning: silhouettes of giraffes and impalas pass beneath the sun’s huge, hazy orb and the blazing, endless sky.

Watch the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA

Plunging one mile deep, this inconceivable chasm, edged by soaring pinnacles, is undoubtedly America’s greatest natural wonder. Stunning at any time, seeing the canyon at dawn promises a dramatic performance. As the sun rises, the abyss emerges in shades of bronze and orange, while pools of stark light and sharp shadows play across the rock’s surface intensifying its sculpted features.

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Plunging from mountain to fjord on the Flamsbana features

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Quiz: can you name these famous sights?

Quiz: can you name these famous sights?

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Time-lapse photography, where multiple images are captured and played back at an increased speed, can portray the world in unusual and awe-inspiring ways. Here’s a look at ten of the best clips we’ve seen, featuring Yosemite National Park at night, a flight across the USA, and the northern lights.

Yosemite Range of Light

This clip, two years in the making on a Canon 5D, watches night chase day over Yosemite National Park in California. If you’ve ever considered visiting the Californian wilderness, this could seal the deal.

Project Yosemite

The region has played muse to more than one artist, and two other photographers, Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty, have also captured its majesty in another epic clip. Shadows float over endless horizons while hikers scramble across huge rocks and French electronic musician M83 provides a fittingly epic track in the form of ‘Outro’.

Qatar

The very same track is used for this snippet from Simon Kearns.

 Around the world in under five minutes

17 countries, 343 days and 6237 photographs are compressed into a couple of minutes in another stunning clip.

El Cielo de Canarias, Tenerife

Photographer Daniel Lopez climbs above the clouds and recasts them as frothing seas lapping at remote mountain peaks in this spectacular time-lapse.

Northern lights in Norway

If you’ve ever spent a frosty night in pursuit of the aurora borealis, this clip will appeal.

Las Vegas

Like or loathe Vegas, it’s hard to deny there’s a jaw-dropping (if somewhat crass) majesty to the place. This clip might not be as restful or magical as the others but it sums the city up well.

Finding Portland

If a picture tells a thousand words, 308,829 photos says an awful lot. This clip was created over 50 locations with each second of footage taking nearly four hours. The results are worth it, though.

San Francisco to Paris in two minutes

An 11 hour flight (and a 5,500 mile journey) is compressed into two minutes as one dedicated photographer takes a photo every two miles from takeoff to landing.

Move

Three men film themselves in 11 countries over 38,000 miles to create this mind-boggling clip, commissioned by our friends at STA Travel.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Plunging from mountain to fjord on the Flamsbana features

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There’s few better ways to spend a holiday than getting wet. Here, from the pages of Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth, we present some of the best water-based holidays around the world. So whether it’s kayaking with sharks or snorkelling with turtles, give one of these experiences a try and let us know how you got on…

Snorkelling “The Rift”, Iceland

Few places on Earth can match Silfra for snorkelling. The setting is unique, a fissure crack running between the American and Eurasian continents, its precise location changing with the shifting of the plates each year. But it’s the water – or more accurately, the stunning clarity of the water – that makes this site remarkable.

Silfra has arguably the finest visibility anywhere in the world. Crystal is cloudy in comparison. The temperature helps, hovering at around 3°C, as does the water’s glacial purity – it takes two thousand years to get here, drip-feeding its way through fields of lava. In fact, the combination creates a clarity so intense that people have been known to experience vertigo on entering the water, suspended like astronauts over a gully that seemingly drops away into the very centre of the Earth.

Diving Iceland (www.dive.is) organizes snorkelling trips into Silfra.

Sea kayaking in Prince William Sound, Alaska

Watching glaciers calve while paddling round a frozen margarita of opaque blue water and brash ice is an undoubted highlight of sea kayaking in Prince William Sound. Perhaps better still are the opportunities for viewing marine life here. Seals often loll around on icebergs close to glaciers, while sea otters swim in the frigid waters, protected by the wonderfully thick fur that made them prized by the eighteenth-century Russian traders who partly colonized Alaska. In deeper water, look for pods of orcas cruising the waterways in search of their favourite food, seals (no wonder they hang back on the icebergs). You might even spot a few humpback whales, which congregate in small groups and breach spectacularly on occasion. Keep a splash-proof camera handy at all times.

Even if you miss out on a great action photo, there is considerable pleasure in just gliding around the generally calm waters of the fjords, where cliffs clad in Sitka spruce and Douglas fir rise steeply from the depths. For full atmospheric effect, stay in a simple Forest Service cabin or camp out on a small beach or at a designated campsite in one of the state marine parks.

Alaska Sea Kayakers (+1 907/472-2534, www.alaskaseakayakers.com), in Whittier, rents sea kayaks and runs guided day-trips and multi-day tours.

Kiteboarding in Cabarete, Dominican Republic

Kiters from around the world come in droves to the broad, archetypally Caribbean cove of Cabarete off the north coast of the Dominican Republic. Some never leave, hanging out on the beach in a state of perpetual kite-slacker bliss, like lotus-eaters from Homer’s Odyssey. Others shuttle in at weekends between stints at investment banking firms and crash at the high-end condos on the edge of town.

And why not? Cabarete’s bay seems engineered by a benevolent god of kiteboarding. Steady trade winds blow east to west, allowing easy passage out to the bay’s offshore reefs and then back to the sand. The offshore reef provides plenty of surf for the experts who ride the waves here, performing tricks and some incredibly spectacular jumps. The reef also shelters the inshore waters so that on all but the roughest of winter days the waters remain calm. Increasingly, the kiteboarding community has left the built-up main village to the windsurfers and retreated west to so-called Kite Beach. Here you can experience Cabarete as it was fifteen years ago, a kiteboarder’s paradise filled with fellow wind worshippers and a lively outdoor nightlife scene, including bonfires along the beach into the wee hours.

The international airport at Puerto Plata is 20km west of Cabarete. All the major windsurfing and kiteboarding equipment manufacturers have schools and equipment rental along the town’s main strip.

Sea kayaking in the Exumas, Bahamas

“Wilderness” is not the first word that springs to mind when someone mentions the Bahamas; rum cocktails, high-rise hotels and limbo contests are the ready images. Yet a short hop from the wall-to-wall cruise ship carnival in Nassau lies the Exuma Cays, a chain of a couple of hundred mainly uninhabited islands stretching for more than 65km along the edge of the Great Bahama Bank. Separated by a tranquil sea, the low-lying chunks of honeycombed limestone rimmed by powdery white sand and covered in dense vegetation have seemingly been designed with one mode of exploration in mind: the sea kayak.

The Exuma Land and Sea Park, in the middle section of the cays, makes for an excellent starting point. Your ride begins at dawn, when the mirror-smooth sea takes on a delicate shade of pink. The languid morning hours are spent blissfully dipping your paddle into turquoise waters lit from beneath by sunlight reflected off a brilliant white sandy bottom and brimming with lush undersea gardens, coral reefs and a profusion of tropical fish. At midday, beach your kayak on an inviting swathe of sand and picnic under a palm tree. Snorkel over bright-hued clumps of coral, marvelling at the dazzling colours and patterns of the fish as they dart among the waving purple sea fans.

The main transport hub in the Exuma Cays is Staniel Cay, easily reached from Nassau; for trips departing from Great Exuma, you can fly into George Town from Florida.

Snorkelling with turtles, Bonaire

After months of planning and years of dreaming you’ve finally arrived at a small, uninhabited cay off the coast of Bonaire. Beneath the crystal-blue waters awaits a spectacle unparalleled in the marine world. Immense schools of tropical fish in every conceivable shape, size and colour swim alongside sea turtles and dolphins in and around the most impressive coral and sponge gardens in the Caribbean. The waters surrounding this tiny boomerang-shaped island, 80km north of Venezuela, were made a marine park in 1979.

Once under water you immediately hear the continuous grinding of parrotfish grazing on the algae that grows on top of coral heads. Within seconds, a dazzling spectrum of reef fish comes out of hiding from the delicate stands of soft and hard corals. Schools of brightly coloured butterflyfish, angelfish and damselfish swim in and out of the crevices and between colonies of elkhorn and staghorn corals. Several metres below, purple sea fans and the tentacles of anemones sway back and forth as the swift current pushes you along.

www.infobonaire.com has lots of information on snorkelling.

Kayaking in the Sea of Cortés, Mexico

The remote and ruggedly beautiful Baja coastline has become a favourite destination for sea kayakers – and for good reason. The calm waters of the Sea of Cortés make for easy surf launches and smooth paddling. Hundreds of unexplored coves, uninhabited islands and miles of mangrove-lined estuaries play host to sealions, turtles and nesting birds. Just the shell of your kayak separates you from dolphins, grey whales, coral reefs and over six hundred species of fish as you glide through placid lagoons, volcanic caves and natural arches.

It’s a good idea to keep your snorkelling gear handy – should you ever tire of the topside scenery, you can make a quick escape to an even more spectacular underwater world. Rookeries of sealions dot island coasts, and if you approach them slowly, the pups can be especially playful, even mimicking your underwater movements before performing a ballet of their own. Back on land, as you camp on white sand beaches and feast on freshly made ceviche (citrus-marinated raw fish) under the glow of a glorious sunset, you’ll have time to enjoy some peace and quiet before pondering your next launch.

Tour operators in both Loreto and La Paz offer outfitting, guided expeditions and accommodation, with La Paz providing more rental options for the independent kayaker.

Paddling into secret lagoons, Thailand

The first time you enter a hong you’re almost certain to laugh with delight. The fun begins when your guide paddles you across to the towering karst island and then pilots your canoe through an imperceptible fissure in its rock wall. You enter a sea cave that reeks of bats and gets darker and darker until suddenly your guide shouts, “Lie back in the boat please!” Your nose barely clears the stalactites and you emerge, with your toes first, into a sunlit lagoon, or hong, right at the very heart of the outcrop.

Hong (“rooms” in Thai) are the pièce de résistance of southern Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay. Invisible to any passing vessel, these secret tidal lagoons are flooded, roofless caves hidden within the core of seemingly solid limestone islands, accessible only at certain tides and only in sea canoes small enough to slip beneath and between low-lying rocky overhangs. The world inside these collapsed cave systems is extraordinary, protected from the open bay by a turreted ring of cliffs hung with primeval-looking gardens of inverted cycads, twisted bonsai palms, lianas, miniature screw pines and tangled ferns.

Phang Nga Bay covers some 400 square kilometres of coast between Phuket and Krabi. A reputable sea-canoeing trips operator around the bay is John Gray’s Sea Canoe (www.johngray-seacanoe.com).

Sea kayaking around Shark Bay, Australia

The Peron Peninsula in Shark Bay, on the northwest coast of Western Australia, is well known for its regular dolphin visitations, and a beachside resort at Monkey Mia has grown around the spectacle. But there’s much more to this UNESCO-listed reserve than meeting Flipper and the family, and the sheltered conditions make the Shark Bay area ideal for a sea kayaking adventure.

Paddling in a bay named after the ocean’s deadliest predator may sound as sensible as skinny-dipping in Piranha Creek. Sure, there are tiger sharks out in the depths, but the abundant sea life means they’re fed well enough not to bother you in the shallows. Don’t be surprised if before long a green turtle passes under your kayak, followed by rays the size of a tablecloth. And where there are rays there are usually sharks, but only frisky babies less than a metre long, maturing in the shallow nurseries before heading out to sea.

Visit www.sharkbay.org for more information.

Snorkelling with orcas, Norway

As you slide quietly over the side of the boat and put your face in the freezing water, it’s hard to breathe – not just because your teeth are chattering, but also because there, below you in the blue, are six or seven killer whales that seem as curious about you as you are about them. Tell your friends you’re going snorkelling with “killer whales” north of the Arctic Circle in winter and they’re likely to think you’re a few minnows short of a school. But though orcas, as they’re more properly known, have been known to eat prey larger than humans, the ones in northern Norway mainly eat fish.

Prime orca-viewing time is October to January, when migrating shoals of herring lure 600–700 orcas to Tysfjord in northern Norway. You might even have a chance to see them feed. Norway’s orcas have perfected a fishing technique called “carousel feeding”: they herd the unsuspecting herring into a tight ball using air bubbles as a net, slap the ball with their tails to stun ten to fifteen fish at a time, then scoff them one by one. Sure it’s cold, but there’s plenty of gear to keep you warm: dry suit, warm inner suit, mask, snorkel, gloves and booties. And yes, you might feel a tad vulnerable drifting on the surface of the North Atlantic surrounded by a bunch of five-tonne marine mammals. But all that’s forgotten as soon as you spot a dorsal fin breaking the surface – and you realize you didn’t just become dinner.

The local Tysfjord tourist office runs snorkelling safaris between October and mid-January for 1700kr per person. See www.tysfjord-turistsenter.no for more.

Sea kayaking in the Mingan Archipelago, Québec

On the map, the Mingan Archipelago, stretching 150km from Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan to Aguanish, looks like a trail of biscuit crumbs scattered in the Gulf of St Lawrence. But from the vantage point of your sea kayak, cruising through the channels that separate this collection of forty uninhabited islands and nearly a thousand islets and reefs, it’s a much different story. First, it’s impossible to miss the tall rock monoliths that guard the bays which, from a distance, look very much like people. Second, much of what you’re paddling around to see actually lurks beneath the surface. The waters here are a feeding ground for the largest mammal on Earth, the blue whale, as well as for minke, fin, beluga and humpback whales – keep your eyes trained on the horizon, looking for the telltale puff of water vapour blown by a whale as it surfaces.

Beneath your paddles the water is so clear that it magnifies the seabed. Bright orange sea stars, deep red urchins and lime green kelp crust the sea floor, the rock worn into underwater monoliths or crazily paved ledges. As sunset stains the sea pink and purple, you’ll need to pick an island and a beachside campsite. Civilization feels a galaxy away as you laze around the campfire or scramble up a clifftop for a last gaze out at sea, hopeful of spotting a whale silhouetted against the sinking sun.

Expédition Agaguk in Havre-Saint-Pierre (418/538 1588) rents equipment and also provides guides for trips around the islands.

Rafting the Tatshenshini, Yukon

The silt-laden waters of the Tatshenshini River are a paddlers’ paradise, with the most magnificent portion coursing 213km through the heart of the St Elias Mountains, which extend from the southern Yukon across to northern British Columbia and on into the Gulf of Alaska. There’s no shortage of things beaked, toothed and clawed here, and the inevitable sightings and full-on encounters are thrilling: grizzly bears lumber along gravel river beds, hoary marmots scramble up scree slopes and schools of glinting salmon swim in the murky waters below.

Putting in at tiny Dalton Post, Yukon, for the start of a ten-day expedition that ends at Dry Bay, Alaska, you’ll soon be floating through the same territory prospectors did during the late 1800s Klondike gold rush, when the river was a busy thoroughfare. Yet you’d barely know anyone had ever been this way – the whole region remains gloriously untouched, surrounded as it is by Canada’s Kluane National Park, BC’s Tatshenshini Provincial Park, the Yukon’s Kluane Wildlife Sanctuary and the US Glacier Bay National Park. Journeying through these, you’ll pass through steep-sided mountain canyons, negotiate rapids, drift past razor-sharp cliffs and thick stands of pristine wilderness and come within touching distance of 10,000-year-old icebergs – the river system, after all, passes through the largest non-polar ice field in the world.

Tatshenshini Expediting in Whitehorse (867/633-2742, www.tatshenshiniyukon.com) has details on package tours ranging from day-long rafting trips to 10-day expeditions.

 

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Plunging from mountain to fjord on the Flamsbana features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Aurora Spirit: a magical journey to Norway’s Arctic north

Aurora Spirit: a magical journey to Norway’s Arctic north

This year, there’s more than the aurora borealis to draw you to ethereally beautiful Arctic Norway. On the shores of Lyngenfjord, two hours from the city of T…

07 Feb 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge insert_drive_file Article
Tromsø: why you need to discover Norway’s Arctic gateway

Tromsø: why you need to discover Norway’s Arctic gateway

Norway isn't short of incredible landscapes. This is the country of majestic lakes, lush meadows and snow-covered mountains. Yet one part of Norway continues to…

31 Jan 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge insert_drive_file Article
13 ridiculously gorgeous pictures of Norway

13 ridiculously gorgeous pictures of Norway

From mountain landscapes to the midnight sun, photographer George Turner shares a selection of his best pictures of Norway. Norway, no matter the season, is …

06 Sep 2016 • George Turner insert_drive_file Article
Meet Norway's new ambassadors: 4 sheep named Erik, Frida, Lars and Kari

Meet Norway's new ambassadors: 4 sheep named Erik, Frida, Lars and Kari

This summer, the Norwegian tourist board have taken a new approach to sharing their country's magnificent landscapes. They've shunned slick ad campaigns in favo…

01 Aug 2016 • Eleanor Aldridge insert_drive_file Article
A first-timer’s guide to the Faroe Islands

A first-timer’s guide to the Faroe Islands

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 …

07 Jun 2016 • Ros Walford insert_drive_file Article
7 reasons to visit Trondheim, Norway

7 reasons to visit Trondheim, Norway

Aurora-chasers venture to the Arctic north, while slick Oslo lures the arty crowd. In the stampede to these A-list destinations, the rest of Norway is often for…

15 Dec 2015 • Anita Isalska insert_drive_file Article
Video: couple captures the romance of Norway's wild storms

Video: couple captures the romance of Norway's wild storms

If howling winds and unrelenting rains aren't your idea of a romantic break, then perhaps this isn't the trip for you. But watch this video, and it might change…

11 Nov 2015 • Lottie Gross videocam Video
Scandinavia for first-timers: 7 ideas for short breaks

Scandinavia for first-timers: 7 ideas for short breaks

On the face of it, Scandinavia isn’t a very sensible place for a holiday. For one thing, it’s almost always going to be colder than the place you’re leavi…

09 Oct 2015 • Steve Vickers insert_drive_file Article
The Lofoten: discover Norway's untamed islands

The Lofoten: discover Norway's untamed islands

Draped across the turbulent waters of the Norwegian Sea, far above the Arctic Circle, Norway’s Lofoten Islands are, by any standard, staggeringly beautiful. …

14 Jul 2015 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
Quiz: can you name these famous sights?

Quiz: can you name these famous sights?

Do postcards and travel posters paper your walls? Do you pride yourself on your travel knowledge? We've selected ten of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring s…

20 Mar 2015 • Jessica Sinyor help Quiz
19 places for a digital detox

19 places for a digital detox

Find peace at Buddhist monastery, Nepal Trim out the religious and/or mystical connotations and Buddhism boils down to something quite simple – brain trai…

14 Nov 2014 • Neil McQuillian camera_alt Gallery
The world's most spooky haunted places

The world's most spooky haunted places

Christchurch Priory, UK It’s said that the tortured souls of long-dead monks wander the grounds of Christchurch Priory, a grand parish church on the south…

29 Oct 2014 • Steve Vickers camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

As any cyclist will tell you, there’s few better ways to see the world than on two wheels. From Armenia to Vermont, here’s some of our favourite bike trips across the globe. Let us know your own favourite cycling holidays below.

Mountain biking at Coed Llandegla Forest, Wales

Coed Llandegla is a purpose-built mountain-biking centre, 11km from Wrexham, in the heart of a forest that has been certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council. There are over 30km of graded mountain-bike trails, from green routes for beginners and families to red and black runs for experienced riders. Mindful of the potential damage mountain biking can cause, the owners carried out an environmental impact assessment before they designed the cycle circuit. In addition to this, the log-cabin visitor centre is powered by solar panels and geothermal energy, and rainwater is used to flush the loos and wash the bikes. So you can pedal for all you’re worth and need only worry about hidden roots or low-hanging branches.

For bike rental costs, opening hours, trail routes and how to get there, see www.coedllandegla.com.

Seeing Germany on two wheels

Cycling in Germany is a national obsession. There are more than 150 long-distance cycle routes throughout the country (as well as numerous mountain-biking trails), while many of the country’s major cities have a well-developed cycling infrastructure. The following three routes are among the best.

1) The 370km Green Metropolis Leisure Route is predominantly flat and mostly away from busy roads, running from Düren in North Rhine-Westphalia via Limburg in the Netherlands to Beringen in Belgium. For a map of the route (including a PDA-downloadable format) see www.gruenmetropole.eu.

2) The Tour de Fries is a 250km trail in Ostfriesland in the far northwest of Germany. It begins at Wilhelmshaven, where you cross by boat over Jadebusen and continue in the saddle to Bockhorn, Friedeburg, Wittmund, Schillig, Horumersiel and Hooksiel before stopping for a well-deserved beer in the brewery town of Jever. For maps and detailed itineraries see www.friesland-touristik.de.

3) If off-road biking is more your thing, head to the Solling Vogler Nature Reserve in northern Germany, where the terrain varies from valleys crisscrossed with streams and forested trails up to exposed wide ridges of the Grosse Blösse peak (528m). There are fifteen different circuits along 600km of trails (varying from easy to challenging) and one 160km trail around the entire park, which includes 2700m of climbing over two to four days. For itineraries and reservations contact the local tourist office: www.hochsolling.de.

A day’s sightseeing in Paris, by bike

Though Paris is packed with iconic sights, it is not a large city. The main attractions – such as the Champs-Elysées, Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Avenue de l’Opera, the Marais, Pompidou Centre and Bastille – are all within walking distance of the principal train hubs: Gare du Nord (for those arriving on Eurostar), Gare de l’Est (for those arriving from the east) and Gare de Montparnasse (for those travelling up from the south).

The metro system can get you across Paris quickly, but the best way to see the sights in a day is from the comfort of a saddle. You can be more spontaneous: stop off en route at the shops and markets, cross one of the many bridges over the River Seine, or follow a dead-end alleyway that leads to that exquisite pavement café. You even begin to feel like a Parisian.

The city’s self-service cycle hire scheme, “Vélib”, which was introduced in the summer of 2007, has been a great success. It allows you to pick up and drop off bicycles throughout the city at over a thousand locations 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Cycling along the Göta Canal, Sweden

Spend a gentle day’s cycling in the fresh air and at the same time learn about a proud part of Sweden’s heritage. The Göta Canal was one of the country’s largest civil engineering projects: built between 1810 and 1832 to transport goods for export, it has a whopping 58 locks that link rivers and lakes for 190km, from Mem on the east coast to Sjötorp at Lake Vänern.

There are several long sections of the canal where you can cycle along a renovated towpath. The most popular attractions are the canal museum at Sjötorp (where there are classic boat motors and old naval maps) and the seven locks at Berg, where you can watch boats being lowered over 18m.

If your limbs ache after a day’s cycling, you could opt for a change of scene the next day, and either go kayaking or just relax at the water’s edge and enjoy the calm of the canal.

For more information about the history of the Göta Canal, events and other places to stay en route see www.gotakanal.se.

Riding towards Mount Ararat, Armenia

A horse trek with the Ayrudzi Riding Club is a journey into the distant past. Trips on their thoroughbred horses through the fruit groves and meadows lining the mountain streams of Armenia, which can last anything from a few hours to several days, take in pagan sanctuaries, a ninth-century church carved into a volcanic cave and the mighty Mount Ararat, where Noah is said to have finally found land. At night you either camp under the stars, often beside ruined castles or temples, or stay back at the cottages that adjoin the riding club. At the latter, organic meals are accompanied by Armenian shadow theatre (an ancient form of shadow puppetry) or folk songs to the tune of the Zourna flute – two of the many traditional activities revitalized since Ayrudzi started bringing visitors through these remote areas.

The riding club is in Ashtarak, 20km from Yerevan. All levels are catered for and equipment is provided. For further details of tours see www.ecotourismarmenia.com.

Cycling the Heritage Trail in Bohemia

Many visitors to Vienna and Prague find plenty to keep them entertained in these two historic capitals, but for those who fancy exploring the medieval towns and villages that lie along the rivers and meadows in between, there’s now a five-day bike route through the Bohemian countryside connecting the two.

The route is divided into sections of between 35km and 60km each day, though there’s still ample time to dismount and explore the many World Heritage Sites along the way, such as Český Krumlov, a picturesque medieval settlement with a magnificent castle, the chateaux of Valtice and Lednice, and the Renaissance town of Telč. Nights are spent in either rural or small town-centre guesthouses, and as Heritage Trails was set up by the founder of the European Centre for Ecological and Agricultural Tourism, visitors can be assured that bringing the benefits of tourism to rural areas is at the heart of everything it does.

For more on tours and accommodation see www.heritage-trails.cz.

Mountain biking along the Kingdom Trails, Vermont

Whether you get your kicks out of cycling over gentle, rolling slopes or steeper, twisting climbs, there’s something for every level of experience at the Kingdom Trails in the hills of northeast Vermont. Around 160km of trails run across the west and east side of Darling Hill and over Burke Mountain, with the most popular including Dead Moose Alley, Fenceline, Pines, Pastore Point, Pound Cake and Sidewinder.

The trail system is managed by a non-profit conservation organization called Kingdom Trails, which has developed smooth tracks along disused cart paths and scenic country lanes. The tracks are built using a comprehensive drainage system, which works to curb the effect that any build-up of water can inflict in terms of eroding soil and vegetation. The trails are open from mid-May to the end of October (depending on conditions), but the best time to go is in the autumn, when the crisp air keeps you cool and you can admire the glorious autumnal colours of Vermont’s broadleaf trees.

For directions from Southern Vermont, Connecticut, Boston and Québec, as well as a list of bike shops and accommodation, see www.kingdomtrails.org.

Seeing Cambodia by bike

For many visitors to Cambodia, the highlight of their trip is a visit to Angkor Wat. But for those on the annual cycling tour with PEPY (“Protect the Earth, Protect Yourself”) it’s just the beginning – the start of a three-week biking adventure that continues around Tonle Sap Lake, down to Phnom Penh and then south to the coast. On some days you may pedal as far as 100km over dusty roads, through rice paddies and vibrant city streets. There are regular stops for an energizing bite to eat and drink – tasty noodles, fried rice, fresh coconut juice – when you’ll get the chance to meet the locals.

The tour also explores the darker sides of Cambodia’s past, such as the notorious Killing Fields. But this is counterbalanced by visits to the many inspiring projects run or supported by PEPY, such as the development of environmental school clubs in rural classrooms, ride-to-school groups and rainwater-harvesting schemes. And when you finally reach the white sands of the beaches in the south, a celebratory splash in the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand makes for the perfect finale.

See www.pepytours.com for further information.

Paddling and peddling around the Lofoten Islands, Norway

Dotted with pretty fishing villages, rugged landscapes and quiet bays warmed by the Gulf Stream, the Lofoten Islands are Norway’s flagship eco-destination: an adventure playground for walkers, cyclists and kayakers.

Lofoten Kajakk runs courses for kayaking as well as day-trips and multi-day adventures with overnight camping into the Trollfjord (a deep, narrow fjord surrounded by snow-covered mountains) and the Risvær/Svellingan archipelagos – home to white-tailed sea eagles, ptarmigans, seals and porpoises. As well as these, Lofoten Kajakk runs multi-sport trips (including hiking, mountain biking and rowing), taking care not to overuse the few marked trails and travelling instead on harder, more durable terrain so as to protect Lofoten’s fragile ecology.

To get there from Oslo take the train to Bodø then a local bus to Lofoten. For prices, booking and details of activities see www.lofoten-aktiv.no.

Where would you recommend for the ultimate cycling holiday?

 

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Plunging from mountain to fjord on the Flamsbana features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Aurora Spirit: a magical journey to Norway’s Arctic north

Aurora Spirit: a magical journey to Norway’s Arctic north

This year, there’s more than the aurora borealis to draw you to ethereally beautiful Arctic Norway. On the shores of Lyngenfjord, two hours from the city of T…

07 Feb 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge insert_drive_file Article
Tromsø: why you need to discover Norway’s Arctic gateway

Tromsø: why you need to discover Norway’s Arctic gateway

Norway isn't short of incredible landscapes. This is the country of majestic lakes, lush meadows and snow-covered mountains. Yet one part of Norway continues to…

31 Jan 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge insert_drive_file Article
13 ridiculously gorgeous pictures of Norway

13 ridiculously gorgeous pictures of Norway

From mountain landscapes to the midnight sun, photographer George Turner shares a selection of his best pictures of Norway. Norway, no matter the season, is …

06 Sep 2016 • George Turner insert_drive_file Article
Meet Norway's new ambassadors: 4 sheep named Erik, Frida, Lars and Kari

Meet Norway's new ambassadors: 4 sheep named Erik, Frida, Lars and Kari

This summer, the Norwegian tourist board have taken a new approach to sharing their country's magnificent landscapes. They've shunned slick ad campaigns in favo…

01 Aug 2016 • Eleanor Aldridge insert_drive_file Article
A first-timer’s guide to the Faroe Islands

A first-timer’s guide to the Faroe Islands

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 …

07 Jun 2016 • Ros Walford insert_drive_file Article
7 reasons to visit Trondheim, Norway

7 reasons to visit Trondheim, Norway

Aurora-chasers venture to the Arctic north, while slick Oslo lures the arty crowd. In the stampede to these A-list destinations, the rest of Norway is often for…

15 Dec 2015 • Anita Isalska insert_drive_file Article
Video: couple captures the romance of Norway's wild storms

Video: couple captures the romance of Norway's wild storms

If howling winds and unrelenting rains aren't your idea of a romantic break, then perhaps this isn't the trip for you. But watch this video, and it might change…

11 Nov 2015 • Lottie Gross videocam Video
Scandinavia for first-timers: 7 ideas for short breaks

Scandinavia for first-timers: 7 ideas for short breaks

On the face of it, Scandinavia isn’t a very sensible place for a holiday. For one thing, it’s almost always going to be colder than the place you’re leavi…

09 Oct 2015 • Steve Vickers insert_drive_file Article
The Lofoten: discover Norway's untamed islands

The Lofoten: discover Norway's untamed islands

Draped across the turbulent waters of the Norwegian Sea, far above the Arctic Circle, Norway’s Lofoten Islands are, by any standard, staggeringly beautiful. …

14 Jul 2015 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
Quiz: can you name these famous sights?

Quiz: can you name these famous sights?

Do postcards and travel posters paper your walls? Do you pride yourself on your travel knowledge? We've selected ten of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring s…

20 Mar 2015 • Jessica Sinyor help Quiz
19 places for a digital detox

19 places for a digital detox

Find peace at Buddhist monastery, Nepal Trim out the religious and/or mystical connotations and Buddhism boils down to something quite simple – brain trai…

14 Nov 2014 • Neil McQuillian camera_alt Gallery
The world's most spooky haunted places

The world's most spooky haunted places

Christchurch Priory, UK It’s said that the tortured souls of long-dead monks wander the grounds of Christchurch Priory, a grand parish church on the south…

29 Oct 2014 • Steve Vickers camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

We recently ran a live Q&A with one of our Scandinavian experts Steve Vickers. Steve is based in Sweden and has contributed to numerous Rough Guides, from Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth to Europe On A Budget, Laos, Thailand and more.

Launch the story below for all sorts of Scandinavian travel advice or scroll down to read selected highlights. Steve helped us with where to see the Northern Lights, how to survive Oslo on a budget, which Copenhagen spots are best for foodies, how to camp and swim in the wild and much more.

Steve Vickers’ live Q&A has finished, but he left us with a wealth of travel advice for the region. Here’s some highlights from the session taken from the Cover It Live widget above.

The best way to witness the Northern Lights

Abisko in the far north of Sweden is an awesome spot for catching the Northern Lights (some say the best in the world). It’s actually pretty easy to get there – you can fly from Stockholm to a city called Kiruna, and then take a train for the final stretch. The cheaper option is usually to take a night train from Stockholm with the state railway company SJ (sj.se). Once you get there, there are cheap hostel beds at Abiskoturiststation (abisko.nu), with mountain walks all around.

It’s possible to see the Northern Lights anywhere in Norway and Sweden, but there’s very little chance in Bergen, Oslo and Ålesund. For the best chance you’d need to get up towards the Arctic circle – and even then a cloudy night can ruin anything! It’s also theoretically possible to see the Lights in summer, but as the nights are so short the chance is much smaller.

Cycling in Sweden

For cycling, try Österlen in the southwest of Sweden. It’s a big expanse of flat land with loads of pre-mapped routes, and there are beaches along the way – so you can cool off with a swim or two. Gotland is also a good bet for cycling.

Scandinavia for music fans

Gothenberg has a well-established music scene, and there are plenty of students to pack out the bars. If you like metal, check out Metaltown, a three-day festival held each summer (metaltown.se). Otherwise, Way Out West (wayoutwest.se) is worth a look – it’s held in the city’s main park.

Water-based fun in Sweden

July or August are the best summer months to visit Stockholm as the water suddenly starts to look a lot more inviting. A fun and reasonably cheap option is to hire a kayak and paddle between the islands. There’s also a good (if crowded) sandy beach on the northern edge of Långholmen island, where you can swim, sunbathe, and watch the boats go by.

Sweden’ biggest lake Vänern has loads of bathing spots. Try Gardesanna towards the southern edge of the lake – it’s popular with locals for a reason. If you’re in Gothenberg, Delsjön is a decent spot for picnics and swimming.

Catching some midnight sun

From mid-May to end of July or beginning of August you can catch the midnight sun at the Lofoten Archipelago where there’s incredible mountain scenery, with sharp, toothy peaks gnawing at the sky. There’s also a golf-course, meaning you can play golf all night, if the mood so takes you. Or check out Riksgränsen, Sweden’s northern most ski resort. Head there in May and you can ski until 1 a.m.

An ideal spot for Scandinavian newbies

Copenhagen is a good place for a first trip to Scandinavia as it’s relatively cheap, design conscious and well-planned out – and there’s excellent beer. As Denmark is a smaller country it’s easy to take a trip out to the countryside if you have a day or two to spare – or you could even hop over the Öresund bridge to Malmö in Sweden (about 35-minute train ride from Copenhagen) and get a taste of Swedish culture too.

Meeting the Sámi reindeer herders

There are Sámi herders that allow tourists to visit, but not many. Others have “regular” jobs (in forestry, for example) and supplement their income by letting people come to stay, or offering Sámi experiences. If you want a good understanding of the culture and how the modern world has affected it, the best place to visit is the Ájtte museum in Jokkmokk. Jokkmokk also hosts a huge winter market at the beginning of February, so you could time a visit to coincide with that.

Scandinavia on a Budget

Hostels are generally of a really high standard and many have private rooms, so even if you don’t like the idea of sharing you don’t have to splash out on a hotel.

Buses are generally cheaper than trains – especially if you book in advance. A trip from Oslo to Gothenberg can cost as little as 99SEK (£10) if you book a few weeks before you travel.

Scandinavia for foodies

Food is a mixed bag in the big cities and you find flavours from all over, but really upmarket places are starting to embrace local flavours a lot more, with ingredients like elk, ligonberries, and wild mushrooms finding their way onto lots of menus. Seafood is also worth seeking out – the cold water helps, apparently!

To eat well in Copenhagen without spending a fortune, there’s a relatively new food hall (torvehallernekbh.dk) where you can pick up loads of gourmet ingredients. You can also try the Danish speciality Smørrebrød – an open sandwich often served with pickled herring, chives and egg.

Unusual accommodation

There’s a prison hostel on Gotland called Visby Fängelse Vandrarhem. There are old cells to stay in, and you’re right beside a beautiful medieval city. If you want to up the spending a little, there’s Treehotel in Harads (treehotel.se) or Jumbo Stay at Stockholm Arland which is a Boeing 747 converted into a hostel/hotel.

Wild camping

In Sweden it’s possible to camp anywhere for one night for free, but there are strict rules about where you camp and what you leave behind (check out swedishepa.se and search Allemansrätten for the exact rules). There’s a similar scheme in Norway, but not Denmark.

 

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Plunging from mountain to fjord on the Flamsbana features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Aurora Spirit: a magical journey to Norway’s Arctic north

Aurora Spirit: a magical journey to Norway’s Arctic north

This year, there’s more than the aurora borealis to draw you to ethereally beautiful Arctic Norway. On the shores of Lyngenfjord, two hours from the city of T…

07 Feb 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge insert_drive_file Article
Tromsø: why you need to discover Norway’s Arctic gateway

Tromsø: why you need to discover Norway’s Arctic gateway

Norway isn't short of incredible landscapes. This is the country of majestic lakes, lush meadows and snow-covered mountains. Yet one part of Norway continues to…

31 Jan 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge insert_drive_file Article
13 ridiculously gorgeous pictures of Norway

13 ridiculously gorgeous pictures of Norway

From mountain landscapes to the midnight sun, photographer George Turner shares a selection of his best pictures of Norway. Norway, no matter the season, is …

06 Sep 2016 • George Turner insert_drive_file Article
Meet Norway's new ambassadors: 4 sheep named Erik, Frida, Lars and Kari

Meet Norway's new ambassadors: 4 sheep named Erik, Frida, Lars and Kari

This summer, the Norwegian tourist board have taken a new approach to sharing their country's magnificent landscapes. They've shunned slick ad campaigns in favo…

01 Aug 2016 • Eleanor Aldridge insert_drive_file Article
A first-timer’s guide to the Faroe Islands

A first-timer’s guide to the Faroe Islands

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 …

07 Jun 2016 • Ros Walford insert_drive_file Article
7 reasons to visit Trondheim, Norway

7 reasons to visit Trondheim, Norway

Aurora-chasers venture to the Arctic north, while slick Oslo lures the arty crowd. In the stampede to these A-list destinations, the rest of Norway is often for…

15 Dec 2015 • Anita Isalska insert_drive_file Article
Video: couple captures the romance of Norway's wild storms

Video: couple captures the romance of Norway's wild storms

If howling winds and unrelenting rains aren't your idea of a romantic break, then perhaps this isn't the trip for you. But watch this video, and it might change…

11 Nov 2015 • Lottie Gross videocam Video
Scandinavia for first-timers: 7 ideas for short breaks

Scandinavia for first-timers: 7 ideas for short breaks

On the face of it, Scandinavia isn’t a very sensible place for a holiday. For one thing, it’s almost always going to be colder than the place you’re leavi…

09 Oct 2015 • Steve Vickers insert_drive_file Article
The Lofoten: discover Norway's untamed islands

The Lofoten: discover Norway's untamed islands

Draped across the turbulent waters of the Norwegian Sea, far above the Arctic Circle, Norway’s Lofoten Islands are, by any standard, staggeringly beautiful. …

14 Jul 2015 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
Quiz: can you name these famous sights?

Quiz: can you name these famous sights?

Do postcards and travel posters paper your walls? Do you pride yourself on your travel knowledge? We've selected ten of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring s…

20 Mar 2015 • Jessica Sinyor help Quiz
19 places for a digital detox

19 places for a digital detox

Find peace at Buddhist monastery, Nepal Trim out the religious and/or mystical connotations and Buddhism boils down to something quite simple – brain trai…

14 Nov 2014 • Neil McQuillian camera_alt Gallery
The world's most spooky haunted places

The world's most spooky haunted places

Christchurch Priory, UK It’s said that the tortured souls of long-dead monks wander the grounds of Christchurch Priory, a grand parish church on the south…

29 Oct 2014 • Steve Vickers camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

If you like getting up close and personal with the animal kingdom on your travels, these trip ideas should appeal. From alligators to zebras – via reindeer, cheetahs, baboons and gorillas – we’ve herded together a veritable wildlife park to inspire you.

See wildlife in Gabon

The jungles in Gabon have the highest diversity of tree and bird species anywhere in Africa (over 670 bird species have been recorded). It’s also a place where the wildlife of the equatorial rainforests tumbles out onto its Atlantic beaches: you’re just as likely to see hippos playing in the surf as you are elephants and buffalo roaming along the beach or humpback whales cavorting offshore. Only three national parks – Loango, Lope and Ivindo – are currently geared up for tourism and realistically accessible, but others are bound to follow.

An innovative pilot project known as Operation Loango has helped to establish ecotourism in the Loango National Park, a diverse ecosystem of forest, savannah, rivers, lagoons and beaches. The success of the project has led to the foundation of the travel company Africa’s Eden, which leads guided tours into the forest to see lowland gorillas, as well as operating humpback whale-watching trips from July to October. Trips into the forest are based from several lodges, such as Tassi Savannah Camp, a small tented camp by the beach, from where you can see green, olive ridley and leatherback turtles. The choice, then, is yours: hippos, lowland gorillas, elephants, turtles or the best birdlife in Africa.

For prices and itineraries of Africa’s Eden’s trips see www.africas-eden.com.

Join the Sami Reindeer Migration, Norway

Norwegian tour operator Turgleder offers a unique opportunity to join Scandinavia’s indigenous people as they follow the annual migration of reindeer from their inland winter habitat in the far north of Norway to their costal grazing land. This is emphatically not a made-for-tourism experience: the Sami use one or two snowmobiles to carry their equipment but other than that this is how they’ve been herding reindeer for centuries. So expect to eat and sleep like them in their lavvus (Sami tipis), cook over an open fire and go ice-fishing. You join up with a Sami family and spend four days travelling with the reindeer, feeding and caring for the herd and protecting them from predators (wolves and lynx) as they move across the desolate landscape. Not only will you witness the spectacular migration of hundreds of animals, but you’ll also be given a genuine – and privileged – insight into the life of the itinerant people of Scandinavia.

For prices and booking see www.turgleder.com.

Go on a dog-sledding safari in Svalbard, Norway

In Arctic conditions it’s difficult to get quickly from A to B without some form of assisted transport. Yet the noise and air pollution caused by snowmobiles hardly does the fragile environment much of a favour. Dog-sledding is the only viable green alternative, and Svalbard Villmarkssenter runs overnight tours as well as five-day dog-sledding trips from Longyearbyen southward through Spitsbergen’s glaciers and fjords. Svalbard Villmarkssenter also provides the option of a combined polar skiing and snow-kiting trip. En route, you’ll have a good chance of spotting polar foxes, seals and polar bears as well as the northern lights. This low-impact tour is in sharp contrast to the increasing number of motorized trips out of Longyearbyen, from where as many as seventy snowmobiles depart every day. Opt for the dog-sledding alternative and you’ll help to protect the Arctic wilderness and see more of the local fauna.

For itineraries, prices and advice on what to bring see www.svalbardvillmarkssenter.no.

Come face to face with a mountain gorilla, Rwanda

No matter how many wildlife documentaries you’ve seen, nothing can prepare you for the moment you first see a mountain gorilla in the wild. Weighing some 200kg and not far off 2m tall (when standing upright), with deep-set eyes, a mass of coarse fur and bulging muscles, it is a fearsome sight. Yet once you’ve reeled from the terror of being so close to this huge wild animal, you become mesmerized by it.

Finding a mountain gorilla in the wild takes patience and skill. There are only about 680 left in the world in just two dense forest regions of Central Africa – in the Virunga Volcanoes region (which straddles Uganda, Rwanda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo) and the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwest Uganda.

One of the best places to see the gorillas is in the Parc National des Volcans in the far northwest of Rwanda, which is home to half of the entire population of mountain gorillas. Rwanda Ecotours runs trips to see seven groups of gorillas that are habituated to humans. Tours range from a one-day trek to a six-day hike that includes a visit to the Dian Fossey Research Station where you can hear about the programme’s Mountain Gorilla Conservation work.

For itineraries, reservations and more about gorilla conservation see www.rwandaecotours.com.

Track cheetahs on foot, Namibia

Few people ever see a cheetah in the wild. As well as being one of the shyest of the big cats, it’s also one of the most endangered: perhaps only ten thousand remain, around a quarter of those in the barren expanses of Namibia. If you’re keen to see one then the Africat Foundation, the world’s most successful cheetah and leopard rescue-and-release programme, offers the best cheetah-spotting odds anywhere outside a zoo.

Based on the 223-square-kilometre Okonjima guest farm near Otjiwarongo, where guests stay in luxurious thatched chalets, Africat funds a programme to rescue cheetahs captured by farmers, thus saving them from the gun. It then cares for the animals with a view to their possible reintroduction to the wild (around 85 percent are ultimately released). The hundred or so cheetah on site live in enclosures ranging in size depending upon the state of their rehabilitation. Thanks to the radio collars used to monitor them, the cheetahs are far easier to find than would normally be the case. In some places, the guides will take you to around ten metres from a pair of cheetahs to watch them devour a kill, or you’ll follow them on foot as they track impala through the bush.

For details of rates, activities and the lodge see www.okonjima.com.

Become a game ranger at Kwa Madwala, South Africa

Few jobs have as romantic an image as being a game ranger. At Kwa Madwala Game Reserve, near to Kruger National Park, you can find out if you’ve got what it takes to track lions and hyenas on foot, tag and release birds of prey, or count antelope populations from a microlight. Over the last few years the owners of the estate have been turning a former trophy-hunting lodge back to the pristine wilderness it once was. One of the ways they fund this enterprise is by inviting guests to assist the rangers in their work. If you’ve got a few weeks or more to spare, then you can stay at a former farmhouse looking out over a small lake with resident hippos and crocodiles, and try out most aspects of a ranger’s work – from darting lions and rhinos to sleeping out in the bush under the stars.

Info on project opportunities, prices and how to apply at www.kwamadwala.net.

 

Track red foxes in Vålådalen Nature Reserve, Sweden

From the Vålådalen mountain station at the foot of Ottfjället Mountain in western Jämtland, two Swedish biologists, Annica and Torkel Ideström, run shoeing tours through the hilly, pristine forests of the Vålådalen nature reserve. Covering 6–10km a day and camping out at night, you’ll investigate tracks of red fox, moose, reindeer, otter and mountain hare and learn about survival techniques in the wild. If you’re lucky you may spot the tracks of lynx and wolverine, or hear the distant barking of an Arctic fox high above the tree line in the Syl Massif. And if you live a charmed existence, you might witness the Northern Lights. The four-day round trip ends back at the mountain station where you can have a well-earned beer and sauna followed by a hearty dinner, with Arctic char, elk and reindeer on the menu.

For more info (in Swedish only) see www.mountainexperience.se.

Walk with the Chacma baboons, South Africa

Most of us would imagine that going for a stroll among baboons would be about as sane as going for a swim with crocodiles – their vicious teeth and ear-piercing shrieks hardly make them ideal rambling companions. Yet the team of guides at the charity Baboon Matters propose exactly this, and they’re not mad; they believe that if people develop a better understanding of the much-maligned baboons that live in the hills around Cape Town, then they will be less likely to consider them as pests.

Tourists are taken up into the hills and walk for around two hours to the baboons’ territory, where they can observe around thirty individuals from a distance of a few metres. Far from displaying aggression, though, the baboons regard their visitors with curiosity, or more often just carry on as if you weren’t there. One prods around under some stones with a stick, hoping for something to eat. A mother strides on all fours across the ground, her baby riding on her back. Two young males posture and mouth off in front of a bored-looking female. As you spend time among these fascinating creatures, apprehension is soon replaced by hushed wonder as the complexity of their relationships begins to unfold.

Information on tour booking, times and costs are at www.baboonmatters.org.za.

Wake up with meerkats, South Africa

The jeep stops at 5.30am outside dusty Oudsthoorn, a small town in the Western Cape. Everyone in the group gets out and walks a short distance away, tired but excited, binoculars trained on the holes in the bare ground nearby. A few minutes pass. Then, without warning, a furry head pops up like a jack-in-the-box. And another. Suddenly a group of sleepy meerkats are bobbing up and down, sunning themselves, foraging for food and playfighting.

Meerkats are normally shy creatures, and it’s thanks to Grant Mcilrath (known hereabouts as “Meerkat Man”) that this insight into their world is possible: they are used to him, and he knows how to find out which burrows in the 10km-wide conservation area they will have moved to overnight. As the sun rises higher and the urge to giggle at their antics subsides, the meerkats approach to within a few metres, seemingly unfazed. Before your stomach has even rumbled for breakfast, you’ve witnessed up close an animal society that few get the chance to see even from a distance.

For more info on tours and booking see www.meerkatmagic.com.

Track wild dogs in the Limpopo, South Africa

The Endangered Wildlife Trust is a non-profit organization in the Limpopo region that has worked to ensure wild dogs’ survival for over three decades. One of their successes has been to show farmers that wild dog-tracking is a viable form of ecotourism that can protect the dogs while benefiting local communities. Spending nights at the thatched Little Muck Lodge in Mapungubwe, guests are led by a trained conservationist on 4WD tours that allow them to observe the dogs roaming in their natural habitat – hunting, if you’re lucky – and the fees from this are used to manage fenced reserves that keep the animals away from local farmers’ stock. So far it’s proving an effective strategy: the wild dog population in Limpopo is finally rising after a long decline.

Booking and rates for Little Muck Lodge and wild dog-tracking are at www.soutpansberg-tourism.co.za.

Help save the chimpanzee from extinction, South Africa

Situated just 12km from the South African city of Nelspruit on the Umhloti Nature Reserve, the Jane Goodall Chimpanzee Eden is developing rehabilitation techniques so that as many chimps as possible can be released into the wild. For those too traumatized by their experiences, it provides a place similar to their natural habitat to live out their lives peacefully. You can drop in for an hour-long tour or stay for a week or more, helping to monitor behaviour or record the sounds they make when communicating, although no handling by guests is allowed. Experts reckon our closest relative will be extinct within their natural habitats in as little as a decade. Time (and money) spent watching the likes of Amadeus and Abu helps the sanctuary prevent this from happening.

For more on accommodation rates and tours see www.janegoodall.co.za.

See the rare sitatunga deer, Zambia

The best time and place to spot a sitatunga, Africa’s elusive swamp-dwelling deer, is at dawn and up a tree. Eighteen metres up a mahogany, to be exact, since the Fibwe tree hide in Zambia’s Kasanka Park offers an unbeatable vantage point, from where you might also see the equally endangered roan and sable deer. As the morning mists clear across the papyrus swamps below the hide, sitatunga take to the water to avoid leopards and other predators, though the water also has its dangers: visitors to the hide can occasionally spot the snouts of crocodiles floating loglike amid the reeds.

The park is privately owned by the UK/Zambian charity the Kasanka Trust, which spends its profits from tourist fees on conservation and community projects, from controlled timber production to local vegetable gardens, as well as providing employment as guides on walking safaris and canoe trips.

For more info see www.kasanka.com.

Visit Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa

Close encounters with elephants are common at Tembe Elephant Park in the north of South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal province. For centuries the ancestors of these elephants roamed freely across the sand forests of Maputuland, the region that straddles the border of South Africa and Mozambique, but their numbers collapsed during the Mozambiquan civil war due to poachers and land mines. In 1989 a fence was erected across the border to protect those elephants that remained on the South African side and now, after twenty years of successful rehabilitation, their numbers are again thriving.

The only camp in the park is Tembe Elephant Lodge, a joint collaboration between a Durban businessman and the local Thongan community, the historic custodians of Maputuland. There are luxurious tented pavilions with large double beds and outdoor showers, while meals are prepared by women from the village and served in a boma (eating area) under a thatched canopy. The safari camp’s facilities are standard for South Africa, but what sets Tembe apart are the thrilling game drives in the experienced hands of local guides.

For more on getting there, excursions, accommodation and rates see www.tembe.co.za.

Watch the zebra migration, Botswana

Every year as the floods recede, the saltpans of Botswana become too dry to support life, forcing the wildlife there to return to the Boteti River for water. For millennia this has been one of the largest migrations in Southern Africa, but because of drought the river has not run since 1991; the last pool dried up in 1995.

To combat this, Meno a Kwena (a camp based on the river whose name means “crocodile’s teeth”) has built pumps that fill three water holes in the river bed. Its elevated position means that guests can watch as thousands of animals come to drink from the pools. You sleep at night in tents looking onto the bush. Each morning you can study the tracks in the sand to see what passed by in the night. Depending on the time of year, it could be up to 25,000 zebra, in which case you probably heard them anyway.

For rates and further info see www.menoakwena.com.

Track bears in British Columbia

On a Great Bear Nature Tour on the northwest coast of British Columbia, you’ll have an excellent chance of witnessing the grizzly bear’s natural feeding frenzy. Tours are based at Great Bear Lodge, a small floating cabin in Smith Inlet, one of the many fjords in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. The only way in is by a 45min seaplane flight from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island, and as it’s the only place to stay in this region, guests have exclusive access to this protected area.

From late August to October, bears are drawn to the salmon-spawning streams that flow into the Nekite River. Guests are led by a guide along the riverbank to a hide, where you’ll look for bears hunting for the fish that will see them through the long winter hibernation, which can last up to seven months. There can be as many as thirty bears down by the river at any one time, and this is also the best time of the year to see the beguilingly cute cubs.

For bookings see www.greatbeartours.com.

Come face to face with alligators, Florida

Considered one of the most important wetlands in the world, the Everglades is a vast sodden expanse at the southernmost tip of Florida. Dragonfly Expeditions runs three-hour guided tours through its swamps, around the complex tangles of mangroves, sawgrasses and cypress trees that rise up out of the watery quagmire. To stop your feet getting wet, you’ll wear snug neoprene aquasocks and water-shoes, and be given a walking stick to help you stay upright on the slippery undergrowth as you search for river otters, wading birds and of course those ’gators.

You’ll be convinced grasses in the water are snakes as they wrap around your leg, and you’ll probably jump the first time your foot hits a branch underwater. But you’ll soon get used to the sensation, by which time the magnificent wildlife will probably have monopolized your attention – plus there’s a great slap-up lunch of fresh seafood and locally grown salad in a gourmet restaurant overlooking the Barron River to look forward to once you return to dry land.

For prices and more information visit www.dragonflyexpeditions.com.

Meet a moose in Algonquin, Canada

Few areas of wilderness as vast as Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park are as accessible from a major city. Just four hours by direct train from Toronto and you’re in 7600 square kilometres of maple hills, deciduous and coniferous forests, rocky ridges, spruce bogs, and thousands of lakes and streams. In the winter, this pristine park is the domain of dog-sledding expeditions, snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing, while in the summer thousands come for hiking, wild camping and canoe trips. Algonquin is one of the best places in the world to hear a wolf howling, or see moose and beavers, especially from the comfort of a canoe (there are an amazing 16,000km of canoe routes in the park).

To help you find your way around, Northern Edge runs guided canoe tours, including a three-day “Morning Tea with Moose” adventure where you’ll learn about the park’s ecology and be taken to some of the remote places where moose roam.

For prices and itineraries of all trips at Northern Edge see www.northernedgealgonquin.com.

Join an elephant patrol in Indonesia

Wildlife lovers have plenty of reasons to head up to Gunung Leuser, one of Asia’s biggest national parks. Located three hours north of Medan in northern Sumatra, it covers almost 9500 square kilometres, stretching from the shoreline to the top of Indonesia’s tallest mountain (3381m), after which the park is named. Some wildlife is relatively easy to find, such as the rafflesia, the world’s biggest flower, which also has a vile rotting smell – earning it the nickname “corpse flower”. But for many the big draw is the chance to see one of the world’s rarest animals, the orang-utan, whose existence is threatened by the continued felling of its habitat.

There are, however, signs of hope that some habitat can be saved – epitomized by Tangkahan, a village of former loggers now making their living from ecotourism. There are only three places to stay and you’re free to explore the jungle by boat, foot or on the back of one of the seven elephants, who are used to patrol the area and deter loggers. Afterwards, you might like to get stuck in and wash your elephant, or rest on the beach, or even drift down the clear waters towards bat-filled caves, lazing in a rubber ring amid the chatter of toucans and leaf monkeys. Whether you’re lucky enough to encounter an orang-utan or not, it’s a world few get the chance to experience.

Tangkahan is five hours by car or daily bus from Medan. Accommodation can be booked through www.sumatraecotourism.com.

Watch wildlife in bed, Sri Lanka

The Heritance Kandalama – designed by Sri Lanka’s leading architect, Geoffrey Bawa – lies surrounded by thickly forested hills and a shimmering lake, looking as if it is on the verge of being reclaimed by the forces of nature. Built so as not to affect the course of the water that flows underneath it, and with roof-top gardens festooned with creepers that drape seven floors down to the grass below, it blends seamlessly into the rock face into which it is built. Despite having 152 bedrooms, five restaurants and bars, three swimming pools and an organic spa, its stone facade is so covered with greenery that from the other side of the lake you can hardly see it.

There’s plenty of wildlife to see – as well as bird-, butterfly- and dragonfly-watching walks, guests can take part in a nocturnal snake-hike with the resident naturalist. Though if you’d rather see snakes during the day you can check out the hotel’s own animal rehabilitation centre and say hello to convalescing cobras and vipers. Having seen them you’ll probably want to double-check those French doors before retiring to bed.

For further information on accommodation, dining, activities, prices and getting there visit www.heritancehotels.net.

Koala spotting, Brisbane

One of the best places to spot koalas is in the eucalyptus forest surrounding Brisbane, just an hour’s drive from the city. The only catch is that these animals are notoriously shy and very well camouflaged – so if you’re with a guide who knows their hangouts your odds of seeing one will be much improved. One such expert is Dr Ronda Green of Araucaria Ecotours. A trained zoologist, Ronda and her son Darren and have been tracking koalas for years. They’ll soon have you peering through binoculars looking for freshly stripped branches and tell-tale claw marks, while watching your step for dry, cigar-shaped droppings – all clues to koalas being in the vicinity. With luck, you’ll spot the star of the show diligently chomping its way through the forest canopy or dozing way up above (koalas spend up to eighteen hours a day asleep so don’t expect them to pose for photos).

During the rest of the tour you’ll encounter a range of other Aussie icons including wallabies and kookaburras (probably the country’s loudest bird, with a piercing laughing call). As dusk descends there’s another treat in store – the sight and sound of thousands of fruit bats taking flight to forage; the noise is so intense it’s enough to wake a koala.

Araucaria Ecotours (www.learnaboutwildlife.com) runs wildlife day tours of one to three days from Brisbane and Gold Coast resorts.

 

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Quiz: can you name these famous sights?

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Don’t go to Japan or Australia if you’re looking after your pennies. A new poll from the Economist Intelligence Unit has placed Tokyo and Osaka as the first and second most expensive cities in the world, followed closely by Sydney, Oslo and Melbourne. Personally, I didn’t find Oslo too bad, but as a Londoner I’m probably au fait with sky-high prices; my home town is sitting pretty at 16.

The survey, which is based on the cost of 160+ items ranging from transport, utilities and food and drink, has seen Australia’s cities soar in the last couple of decades. Zurich, meanwhile, has dropped from the top spot to seventh place.

The 10 least expensive cities, on the other hand, include Karachi in Pakistan, Mumbai and Delhi in India, Nepal’s Kathmandu and Algiers in Algeria. Bucharest, Colombo in Sri Lanka, Panama City, Jeddah and Tehran make up the rest.

Incidentally, we have some great tips for visiting Tokyo for free and enjoying Sydney without spending money.

The top ten most expensive cities in the world:

1. Tokyo, Japan
2. Osaka, Japan
3. Sydney, Australia
4. Oslo, Norway
4=. Melbourne, Australia
6. Singapore
7. Zurich
8. Paris
9. Caracas, Venezuela
10. Geneva, Switzerland

What do you think of the findings? Where was more expensive than you were expecting?


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 To celebrate Rough Guides reaching the grand old age of 30 this year, we’ve asked some of our writers, editors and staff members to nominate their favourite holiday destinations across the world. Be prepared for some acute pangs of wanderlust…

Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast

James Smart, Senior Travel Editor, Rough Guides

The sandy, snorkel-friendly Corn Islands – essentially the Caribbean with less tourists and lower prices – are an increasingly established destination. But the rest of Nicaragua’s poor, steamy and atmospheric east coast is well worth a visit if you want to get off the beaten track – you can nod to reggae in scruffy Bluefields, head on a panga ride to the idyllic Pearl Lagoon, or use remote Puerto Cabezas as the base for trips into the rainforest and to indigenous villages.

Luang Prabang, Laos

Emma Gibbs, Travel Editor, Rough Guides

Luang Prabang is at its most beguiling at dusk. While everyone else rushes up Mount Phousi for the sunset, I prefer to wander the dusty, quiet side streets, where the thump of children’s ball games is interrupted only by the slow, melodic chanting of the monks from the glittering temples.

Marrakesh, Morocco

Eleanor Aldridge, Travel Editor, Rough Guides

Just a few hours and a budget flight away from the UK, Marrakesh is hard to beat for an exotic weekend break. I love the alluring mix of modern and traditional culture, from the sprawling souks and tranquil riads of the medina to the nouvelle ville’s hedonistic nightlife.

Curonian spit, Lithuania

James Rice, Analytics & SEO Executive, Roughguides.com and Traveldk.com

A 98km-long sliver of sand-covered land straddling Lithuania and Russia, the Curonian Spit is the ideal getaway from life’s troubles. Grab a bike, pack a sandwich and cycle your way between the dunes, past fishing villages and through forest trails. Then picnic on the beach. Perfect.

Palm Springs, California, USA

Tim Chester, Web Editor, Roughguides.com and Traveldk.com

While much of PS is still stuck in a mid-century modern time warp, the sprawling desert city is growing (for better or worse) increasingly popular with LA urbanites keen for the same sun, spas and mountain views that attracted the ’50s entertainers in its heyday. Sitting in a hot tub under the stars and palm trees, margarita in hand after a long day doing nothing, is still one of my all-time favourite moments.

Jim Corbett National Park, India

Alison Roberts, Travel Editor, Rough Guides

The diverse wildlife at Corbett Tiger Reserve ensures a memorable trip whether or not you are lucky enough to bump into one of these impressive felines. Nevertheless, an elephant ride by the misty Ramganga River with your toes dangling feet away from a snarling tiger is an experience that’s hard to beat.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Lucy White, Travel Editor, Rough Guides

It’s been in the news a lot recently for being the birthplace of the Titanic, but there’s a lot more to Belfast than ship-building. Newly rejuvenated, with a tempting array of sparkling shops and an invigorated bar and restaurant scene – try the friendly and bohemian Ginger Bistro – the city has a tangibly enthusiastic and forward-thinking attitude.

Battle Harbour, Labrador, Canada

Stephen Keeling, Author, The Rough Guide to New England

Spending the night in one of the creaky bunkhouses on isolated Battle Harbour really is a trip back to the eighteenth century: there are shimmering blue-white icebergs, humpbacks, and killer whales gliding beneath the pier – and the friendly folks here still talk like they’re in Moby Dick. Soak up the accents and the sense of utter isolation.

Borrowdale, Cumbria, England

Jules Brown, Author, The Rough Guide to The Lake District

Hop on the bus from Keswick into the heart of some of Britain’s most stunning scenery, from the lapping shores of Derwent Water to the crags of Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain. My adventure here is different every time, whether I’m kayaking or peak-bagging, but the lakeland outdoors never fails to thrill.

Potosí, Bolivia

Shafik Meghji, Author, The Rough Guide to Bolivia

At a breathless 4090m above sea level, Potosí is the highest city in the world, and was once one of the wealthiest. There’s a treasure trove of colonial art and architecture, the legendary Cerro Rico silver mines, and a truly fascinating history to discover – just make sure you acclimatise first.

Si Phan Don, Laos

Steve Vickers, Author, The Rough Guide to Laos

Landlocked Laos isn’t known for its beaches. But in the luscious southern part of the country, the Mekong splits into a spectacular web of channels, creating thousands of sand-fringed river islands. Si Phan Don’s natural beauty is staggering (if you’re lucky you’ll spot highly endangered Irrawaddy dolphins) but my biggest pleasure comes from chatting with the laid-back islanders, who always have a warm smile for visitors.

Darwin, Australia

Andy Turner, Senior Travel Editor, Rough Guides

Young, vibrant and cosmopolitan, Darwin has transformed itself over the last decade to become one of Australia’s most liveable cities. Today you’re just as likely to meet young locals out for sushi and cocktails as you are a Crocodile Dundee stumbling out of a pub. When you add on the Top End’s incredible wildlife and Aboriginal sites, Darwin becomes a must-see on any Aussie itinerary.

The Somerset Levels, England

Keith Drew, Executive Editor, Rough Guides

A curious patchwork of rivers, rhynes, drains and ditches, the Somerset Levels provide some of the best inland birdwatching in the UK. Old peat workings in the mist-draped Avalon Marshes are home to hobby, marsh harrier and the rare bittern, while April and May sees herons and their young gathering in the treetops of Swell Wood.

Dana, Jordan

Matthew Teller, Author, The Rough Guide to Jordan

If travel is about expanding the mind, Dana is where your imagination fills the sky. A tiny cliff-side village in southern Jordan’s craggy mountains, it has views to inspire, little locally run guesthouses, hidden campsites, lonesome trails and incredible hospitality. Dana’s peace humbles. I never want to leave.

New Orleans, USA

Samantha Cook, Author, The Rough Guide to New Orleans

Forget what you think you know about Katrina, Southern Comfort, or Bourbon Street – New Orleans is a place unlike any other, an old port city fiercely proud of its unique music, culture, language and food. From its noisy brass band buskers and exhilarating street parades to its elegant Creole dining rooms (try Galatoire’s) and hole-in-the-wall jambalaya shops (Coop’s is great), it’s a city that can’t fail to enchant.

Berlin, Germany

Alice Park, Senior Travel Editor, Rough Guides

The first Rough Guide to Berlin was published in 1990, just as the two cities were becoming one again, and there can be few places we’ve written about that have changed so much in that time. It’s one of my favourite destinations, a vital, hedonistic and still ever-changing city, with a fantastically shabby-chic bar on every corner, a world-class club scene (check out Rosi’s), and a laidback, counter-cultural vibe that makes it worth returning to again and again.

Havasupai Indian Reservation, Arizona, USA

Greg Ward, Author, The Rough Guide to the Grand Canyon

Deep in the dry-as-bone Grand Canyon lies an utterly beautiful oasis, where trickling streams join to cascade down magnificent turquoise waterfalls. It has been home to the Havusapai for at least a thousand years, but travellers prepared to hike ten switchbacking miles from the nearest road are welcome to camp overnight.

 

 

 

Svalbard, Norway

Roger Norum, Author, The Rough Guide to Denmark

This Arctic archipelago is about as end-of-the-world as you’re ever going to get – the soil freezes to depths of up to half a kilometre and the polar bear-to-people ratio is 2 to 1. But Svalbard’s Bergmanesque landscape, gorgeous light and opportunity for outdoor adventure make it a real bucket list of a place to visit.

Solu-Khumbu, Nepal

James McConnachie, Author, The Rough Guide to Nepal

People come to this still-remote region of Nepal for one reason: to see Mount Everest. But Solu-Khumbu offers more than mere mountains. It plunges from snowy ridges occupied by Sherpa Buddhist monasteries to lush, steaming valleys creaking with bamboo. It’s beautiful and uplifting and, best of all, there are no roads.

Soho, London, England

Annie Shaw, Editor, Rough Guides

Louche, occasionally lairy and always alive, Soho never fails to thrill. A mix of old-school glamour and lingering sleaze, this central pocket of the capital, with its drop-dead cool and drop-down drunks, celebrates diversity and tolerance like nowhere else. Both day and night, it’s busy, buzzing and, to me, beautiful.

Tasmania, Australia

James Stewart, Author, The Rough Guide to Tasmania

Goodbye, then, chintz and doilies – I won’t miss you. Over the last decade Tasmania has ditched the heritage clichés and grown into a role as Australia’s alternative state. Nowadays, Tassie features the most adventurous gallery in Oz, MONA, yet retains stupendous scenery that is wilder than Loony Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil.

St Ives, Cornwall, England

Helena Smith, Author, The Rough Guide to Walks in London and Southeast England

Getting to St Ives is half the fun, on the quaint branch line from St Erth that runs along a curve of sandy coast. St Ives has all the traditional bucket and spade pleasures, plus the cutting-edge Tate, intriguing painting studios and the acclaimed Porthminster Café and Restaurant which sits right on the beach.

Beng Mealea, Cambodia

Kia Abdullah, Web Operations Executive, Roughguides.com and Traveldk.com

I’ve been across the world, but Cambodia was like nothing else. From the relentless buzz of Phnom Penh to the breathtaking beauty of Siem Reap, this country has everything a traveller could want. Angkor Wat is beautiful, of course, but I was more blown away by Beng Mealea, a secluded set of ruins straight out of Indiana Jones – don’t miss it!

Naples, Italy

Natasha Foges, Senior Travel Editor, Rough Guides

For an authentic slice of Italian life, head to Naples, a raucous, chaotic city that’s brimming with rough-and-ready charm. Wander its ancient streets, dotted with Madonna shrines and buzzing with scooters, explore its beautiful Baroque churches and top-class museums – and be sure to stop at one of its hole-in-the-wall pizzerias for a world-class margherita.

Tsavo West National Park, Kenya

Richard Trillo, Author, the Rough Guide to Kenya

I’m very attached to this place. It sometimes seems every turn in the winding tracks through this 8000-square kilometre sanctuary yields a new discovery – fat-rumped zebras, a herd of wrinkled elephants like a mountain range in motion or impossibly tall, prehistoric-looking giraffes. In the region’s volcanic landscapes, bare lava fields are interspersed with sparkling, spring-fed lakes and thick stands of fig trees and acacias. Last time I was there, during the rainy season, I took a route new to me and spent two hours driving through this pristine scenery, only passing one other vehicle the whole afternoon.

The Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia

Claire Saunders, Contributor, Rough Guides

It’s an otherworldly and stupendously beautiful landscape of blinding white salt flats stretching for as far as the eye can see, broken only by bizarre islands covered in giant cacti. In the wet season it is transformed into a giant mirror. As well as being the most stunning place I’ve ever visited, the Salar was also the coldest: despite a hot water bottle – purchased with some foresight and much smugness the day before – and going to bed wearing every single item of clothing in my rucksack, the night I spent there was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life.

Winterton-on-Sea, England

Martin Dunford, Author, The Rough Guide to Belgium

It’s a place I regularly visit on the Norfolk coast. My children love to run around in the dunes there, the beach is huge and sandy and – big plus – we can take our dog. There’s a great café to warm up (or cool off) in afterwards. Oh, and the village has a great pub too. It’s heaven.

Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico

Zora O’Neill, Author. The Rough Guide to Mexico

Every time I visit Mexico, I discover something new and exciting. The diversity and depth of traditional (and modern) culture here is a treasure. I spend most of my time in the Yucatán, which I love for its mellow attitude and strong Maya traditions. But drive one winding highway to another state and it’s a totally new and thrilling world.

Lapa, Rio de Janeiro

Rob Coates, Author, the Rough Guide to the Caribbean

I love a night out in Lapa. With all eyes on Brazil, the city exudes an infectious arrogance as it parties, and Lapa’s raucous street life and trendy samba clubs always leave my senses dazzled and feet jittering in rhythm.

Tokyo, Japan

Mark Thomas, Senior Picture Editor, Rough Guides

As a photographer, Tokyo is top of my list: a giant futuristic metropolis and the perfect sci-fi background to thousands of my shots. I’ve visited Tokyo on four occasions, met my future wife there and produced some of my best photography there. Its futuristic vision is still etched on my mind.

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