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...
Eighty years ago, downtown Los Angeles was a thriving centre of business and entertainment. It was in this environment that Clifford Clinton opened an epic forest-themed cafeteria called 'Clifton's' (a combination of his first and last name).
In the 1940s Clifton's served as many as 10,000 customers a day, including free meals for those who couldn't afford to pay. The decor helped inspire one visitor named Walt Disney in his plans for a new theme park, to be called Disneyland (wonder how that went...?)
Following World War II the downtown area began a long and slow decline, and by the 1980s crime and homelessness were rampant. Clifton's remained open, the world's largest public cafeteria. In 2010 a local entrepeneur purchased it from the Clinton family and closed it for renovations. Five years and many millions of dollars later Cliftonís Cafeteria reopened to the public, in a downtown that is booming once again.
It is four floors of total kitsch - murals, strange artifacts and curios, stuf...
Hiking to the rim of an active volcano in a lawless region in one of the poorest countries in the world does not feature on the travel itineraries of most, but for the adventurous visiting Ethiopia, it’s a must.
Camel caravans bringing in blocks of salt, to be sold in local markets.
The Erta Ale volcano is located in the far north west of Ethiopia on the border with Eritrea, standing at only 600 metres above sea level. What it lacks in height, it makes up for with its pool of red hot lava bubbling in a crater at the top, and the surroundings of a dramatic, ochre desert expanse which requires a hardy four-wheel drive, a good playlist and a full day to cross.
Departing from the closest town of Mekele the capital of the Tigray region, the tour ventures across the ‘hottest place on earth’ - the Danakil Depression. The Danakil has an average year-round temperature of almost 35’C, and is home to the nomadic Afar people, pastoralists who eke out an existence in the harsh desert environment.
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...
Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, has been a centre of Japanese culture for over a thousand years. Easily reached by bullet train from Tokyo, there are hundreds of temples, shrines, parks and gardens to wander through. It is best to allow several days for a visit, if possible.
Kyoto was one of the cities targeted for the atomic bomb at the end of World War 2, but was spared and so remains today one of the best places to get a sense of historical Japan.
The city is popular with both Japanese and international tourists. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit.
The gold building in the middle of the water is Kinkaku-ji, also called the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. It is a symbol of Kyoto and one of the biggest tourist attractions.
Although Kinkaku-ji dates back to the end of the 14th century it has burned down several times, most recently in 1950 due to arson. (It was reconstructed in 1955.) The pavilion's top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf.
I would like to say that it was just Nick and I drinking Omani coffee with a Bedouin family in their tent but that would be a lie. We did drink coffee in a tent but it was with a handful of other tourists, all of us excited to be in the desert surrounded by sand dunes, camels and lots of empty space.
It was the most remarkable experience and one of the highlights of our time in Oman. The desert covers more than 80% of the country and Wahiba Sands (also called Sharqiya) in the eastern part of the country is one of the prettiest areas with rolling pink sand dunes in all directions and easily accessible being just 4 hours south of Muscat. The view from the top of the dunes is incredible, sand as far as the eye can see, in repeating wave patterns formed by the prevailing wind on the day.
We had booked 2 nights at a small camp called Desert Retreat about 30km into the desert. Humaid, the owner, met us and the other guests at the camp's office on the main road before we all drove in caravan fo...
We are in Barcelona, Spain for a brief visit to fulfill a "bucket list" wish of seeing La Sagrada Familia, the church designed by architect Antoni Gaudi.
Our hotel is located in an old side street just off Las Ramblas, a long pedestrian promenade running from Catalonia Square to the waterfront. For centuries Las Ramblas has been a central point of city life and locals and tourists wander - or ramble might be the best word? - day and night up and down its length.
On each side of Las Ramblas are old theatres, shops and eateries. On the other side from our hotel is the entrance to La Boqueria, an open air public market considered one of the best in the world for its food.
The market stands sell a variety of fresh seafood - raw and cooked - and cured pork products such as chorizo sausage. Most prized (and expensive) of all things pork-related is "JamÛn IbÈrico de Bellota", called by many the finest ham in the world. It is made from free-range black Iberian pigs fed on a diet of acorns, whi...
Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is formed from two cities - Buda and Pest. They are divided by the Danube, Europe's second-longest river. In the mid 19th century the first permanent bridge was built linking the two (although it was sometimes closed depending on weather). In 1873 Buda and Pest officially became Budapest, and now of course there are many ways to get from one side to the other.
Today Pest is busier and more touristed. On the hilly and more sedate Buda side, most international visitors may go to see the Castle or the Gellert Hotel & Baths. Few venture further into the residential area where locals live and shop.
"Taste Hungary" is a company offering walking tours of Budapest to give a taste (literally!) of local life. Their tour of Buda gets underway with a visit to one of the city's historic coffee houses, a family business over 140 years old. (The family did lose ownership during the communist years but were able to regain it later - for a substantial price.)
Landing at Hoedspruit’s Eastgate Airport, I’m excited at the thought of on an evening game drive in just 3 hours. For me, there is nothing like the thrill of chasing wildlife on safari in Africa, and Kapama Private Game Reserve’s 13,000 hectares of wilderness would not disappoint!! Thrilled and amazed by impala and warthog grazing as we taxi down the runway, little did I know I’d be on safari within the hour.
Guests arriving to Kapama receive courtesy transfers in open game viewing vehicles to a choice of four luxurious safari lodges and two wellness spas. Kapama’s gated entrance is literally across the road from the airport, and 5 minutes later, we were viewing impala, warthog, kudu and giraffe.
From my room balcony I see giraffe stretching necks to treetops, while a herd of buffalo meander past one floor below me.
Before meeting our ranger and tracker for an afternoon game drive, we gather for High Tea with cheeky monkeys who don’t mind a Danish or two.