The Atacama Desert in Chile lies 1000km north of the capital Santiago. It’s a two hour flight to Calama then a 90 minute bus trip to the tourist town of San Pedro de Atacama. It is the driest place on earth, the local joke being that the weather forecast is: no rain for the next 200 years. To the east it is bounded by the cordillera – the snow-capped Andes which separate Chile from Bolivia and Argentina.
Most sites can be reached on dirt roads. The easiest trip is to Salar de Atacama, a vast salt lake where flamingos feast on brine shrimp. Lizards and water birds abound.
Mars Valley is an easy hike through sand dunes to a sand-boarding area. The desert lies at 2,500 metres above sea level, so to become acclimatised to the altitude these are good first up trips. The strong wind whips sand into every part of your clothing.
At 3,500 metres are the thermal pools, which can be reached by bus or by hiking through a shady canyon bordered by lone cactuses and old Indian stone corrals for llamas.
Colombia is a far more remarkable country than what the news headlines really say. With the promise of peace looming after 52 years of internal conflict, it is creeping up as an ‘off the beaten track’ tourism destination…one of those places you need to get to before it becomes ‘discovered’. As an expatriate living in Bogota, I have been spoilt for choice on weekend trips for exploring this impressive country. But there is one trip in particular that really stands out so far…
We decided to hire BMW motorbikes from a small private business in Bogota, and spend three days riding a 700km loop through the lush green and very mountainous ‘Eje Cafetero’, or coffee growing region, in central western Colombia. Spanning the distance between three of Colombia’s largest cities – Bogota, Medellin and Cali – the eje cafetero is a UNESCO world heritage site and produces some of the best beans in the world. This region with its coffee plantation tours, fincas (a type of farmhouse) for rent and incredib...
For many tourists the Los Angeles experience may be limited to the airport area, Disneyland and the Anaheim amusement parks, and perhaps a day in Hollywood with a quick look at nearby Beverly Hills.
But this sprawling city has so much more to offer. Los Angeles is rather unique in that it feels like a city without a real centre. There seems to be no real LA equivalent of Times Square or Trafalgar Square. Instead it is a large number of small cities - over eighty - that are stuck together but have individual characters. At close to 20 million people, greater Los Angeles has nearly the population of Australia!
The character of these individual neighbourhoods may be due to their ethnic population - for example LA's Koreatown has the largest population of Koreans outside of Seoul. Or it may be location-related, such as the beachfront cities all along the coast.
One part of Los Angeles worth visiting these days is its downtown area, which has changed a lot in the last couple of decades. Downt...
Landing in Cartagena immediately confirms you’ve arrived in a true Caribbean destination; clear blue skies, steaming hot and an airport as laid back as any island getaway.
The Old Town, a Unesco World Heritage site, is a perfect example of Spanish Colonial architecture, beautifully preserved and maintaining its Colombian heritage. Cobbled streets, ancient churches, bougainvillea covered balconies, pastel hues and an endless stream of horse and carts commandeering the narrow laneways.
It’s not uncommon to see local women dressed in brightly coloured costume, carrying fruit on their heads, street vendors spruiking empanadas and hot dogs, ready to sell to tourists eager to play their role in the lively exchange, despite it all being a clichéd performance, it’s too beautiful to care, like something out of a movie you’re swept up in.
The old town has a nice mix of small boutique and luxury shops, street stalls, picturesque cafes and restaurants, and more panama hats than Emelda Marcos had sho...
Visiting the mountain gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in south-western Uganda remains one of my most memorable, thrilling, intoxicating and exhausting journeys to date.
My first attempt to visit Bwindi was March 1999, towards the end of a six week tour of East Africa. A week before our arrival, guerrillas attacked a truckload of international travellers just like us. The remainder of our itinerary was adjusted to avoid this area altogether. Bwindi closed for 18 months after this event. When travelling anywhere in the search for wildlife, one will need a patient and flexible attitude and safety must always come first.
I waited for Bwindi to re-open and finally by October 2000, I had returned to Uganda to fulfil my dream of meeting the Bwindi mountain gorillas. Please forgive my photos here … this is the year 2000 – I was still shooting with 35mm film.
On arrival our group were split into two. We were reminded each group will spend one hour only with the g...
It's home to one of the world's largest mega cities, dusty villages, volcanoes, mountains, beaches, deserts and enough history and culture to keep anthropologists occupied for a lifetime! Along the coasts it's hot and humid and warm enough for swimming year-round whereas the mountainous central area is freezing in winter and nights can still be cold in the summer months. During our stay we got the flavour of a few different regions and as we have a weakness for beaches we also searched out the most beautiful calm beach destinations. We travelled from the Yucatan peninsula and the Caribbean Sea in the east to Baja California and the Pacific Ocean in the west with stops in Mexico City and a couple of colonial towns on the way.
Rustic and colourful Isla Mujeres (Island of Women) is only 20 minutes by ferry from Cancun and a world apart. Over the years it's been a sanctuary for a Mayan Goddess, infamous pirates who sought shelter between raids on the mainland, Jacques Cousteau...
Ecuador is the Spanish word for Equator, but does this explain why Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, is privileged enough to have two Equators? Ciudad Mitad del Mundo lies 25 kilometres North of Quito, and is the official governmental monument for the Equator determined by French geographers on a 1936 expedition. With cloud covered Andes Mountains as a backdrop, I walked the path dedicated to Charles Marie De La Condamine and others, who led the mission.
A yellow line marks their calculations, East to West – West to East, through this Monument to the Equator. A museum shows the history of Ecuadorian ethnic groups within the tower.
It is my travelling duty to pose, straddling the Equator with one foot in the Northern Hemisphere, and one in the South, with 30 metres of brick tower and globe rising behind me. I also have the opportunity to join a short queue to have my passport stamped Ciudad Mitad del Mundo Quito Ecuador LAT: 0°-0'-0°…..
My guide then informs me that Ciudad Mitad del Mundo...
There are so many stories and myths surrounding the Maya Mexicans who are the indigenous people in Yucatan. They were blood thirsty warriors, had mystical religious ceremonies involving human offerings yet they also developed an advanced understanding of astronomy, a complicated set of calendars and hieroglyphic writing.
The Spanish conquistadores arrived in the early 1500s to colonise and hunt for golden treasures for the Queen of Spain. When after a few attempts, they finally conquered the land, they built European-style towns and set out to convert the Mexicans to christianity. Part of their legacy to us today are some beautiful colonial towns and churches. Travelling around Yucatan gives you a fascinating insight into the history of both these cultures which are now interwoven.
Valladolid, a charming colourful town about 150km inland from Cancun, is a great starting point from which to explore. It was built by the Spanish in the mid-1500s and follows the classical lay-out of a centr...
When one imagines a romantic holiday destination, one conjures images of swimming in the crystal blue waters of Tahiti or strolling hand in hand through the streets of Paris … not climbing stairs at altitude amongst Macchu Picchu in Peru.
Macchu Picchu is an ancient Incan citadel built in the 15th century at 2,430 metres above sea level. The Incas abandoned the city during the Spanish Conquest. Interestingly, locals knew about the site, which was slowly being overgrown by mountainous jungle, but the Spanish never found it, leaving the sacred rock formations untouched. An American explorer, Hiram Bingham, arranged a clearing expedition 1912-1915 to expose this awe-inspiring mountain top fortress.
Some adventurous travellers hike the Inca trail, but for me, the best route was a relaxing journey on the Vistadome train along the Urubamba River to Aguas Calientes. My first night here was spent wandering through local markets, resisting the many offers to try an Alpaca Piz...