We’ve been on the beach for less than an hour and we’ve already seen a dog wearing sunglasses, a souped-up bicycle with built in boombox and more slick, tanned muscles than an episode of Baywatch. But this is not your typical California beach. This is Venice Beach. Big, brash and unashamedly wacky. The sand may be just as golden, but there’s a tantalising unpredictability hanging in the air beneath the swaying palms that sets this place apart from anywhere else on the planet. Anything could happen.
Venice Beach is just one of many incredible places to visit on a holiday to Los Angeles. The city often gets criticised, with words like tacky, smog-filled and botox-obsessed used to describe it. I don’t mind admitting LA was never on our ‘hit list’, it just happened to be our gateway out of the USA. However I’m happy to report that Los Angeles was one of the best surprises of our 8 month round the world trip.
From the pounding surf of Rio de Janeiro to the driest desert on the planet, crossing South America is an incredible experience which packs in more natural wonders than anywhere else on the planet. In just seven days you can feel the spray from the world’s largest waterfall, walk through multicolored mountains and gawp at high altitude lakes en route through three incredible countries.
However figuring out a route across this diverse nation wasn’t easy. With a limited transport network and a surprising lack of information online, it took hours of trawling online forums, poring over maps and baffling bus timetables to work out the best way to travel from East to West.
So to save you going through the same headache, we’ve shared our seven day travel itinerary for crossing South America via some of the most spectacular and diverse landscapes on the planet.
Singapore is well known as a major transport hub connecting destinations across South East Asia and beyond. But this clean, green westernized oasis marooned bizarrely in the middle of chaotic South East Asia is much more than just a place to refuel.
Known as the ‘Garden State’ on account of its extensive green spaces, beautiful parks and gardens, this wealthy country also boasts some of the most impressive night-time skylines on the planet, is home to a world-famous zoo and is the birthplace of a must-try eponymous cocktail. However many travellers are just passing through and fail to see its potential beyond a transport hub.
We travelled to Singapore twice and fell in love with this high tech, high rise city crammed with shiny skyscrapers, refreshing greenery and an orderliness that is so at odds with the rest of South East Asia.
Whether you’ve got 8 hours, 24 hours or more between flights, here’s how to make the most of an airport stopover in Singapore.
From deserted beaches and bustling cities to historic temples and lush green jungle, South East Asia has it all and then some. We spent two months travelling around this fascinating region. Here are our South East Asian highlights in pictures.
I’m holding 3 coca leaves in my palm trying to decide what to wish for. Not an easy task when you’re standing at the gates of Machu Picchu, the most beautiful Inca site in the world. We’re offering up coca leaves to the goddess Pachamama or ‘Mother Earth’, an ancient ritual revered by the Peruvian people. Everyone places their coca leaves beneath a stone except me. I’m still struggling with my wish! There are obvious things to wish for, like a shower. After 4 days sweating our way up seemingly endless ascents deep in the Andes mountains, god knows we need it! Or a foot soak to soothe my aching toes which have pounded hundreds of gruelling but spectacularly engineered Inca steps.
Suddenly the first rays of sun burst over the mountain tops drenching the ancient stone walls in golden light. It’s the moment we’ve been anticipating for the last 43km. Every blister inducing step and rasping breath has been leading to this.
We stagger through the gate, dizzy from excitement and lack of sleep, our eyes feasting greedily on the mother of all ruins, her vibrant green tiers cascading down the hillside. My wish is forgotten, but really, what else is there left to wish for?
I’m standing on the edge of Rio de Janeiro’s famous Pedra Bonita getting ready to jump. Perfect crescents of white sandy beach meet twinkling blue ocean 500 metres below but the city’s beauty is the last thing on my mind as I’m focussing on the single 7-word instruction given during the world’s shortest safety briefing: “Just run as fast as you can”.
So I do…….despite every instinct in my body telling me not to, I run as fast as I can towards the edge of the cliff until the edge disappears and I’m jerked upwards, screaming and thinking about how I’m too young to die. The world spins, a blur of colour and nausea but then…….I’m flying! We whoop and spin skywards, thankful to be alive. The flourescent fabric balloons over our heads as we drift over colourful favelas trickling down lush hillsides beneath Christ’s outstretched arms. The city has never looked so beautiful.
We slide open the camper door and step barefoot onto dewy grass. It’s early but the sun is already slicing through the tree canopy, mottling the ground beneath us in light and shadow. We pick our way carefully along the overgrown path to the empty riverbank. Steam rises from the water and hangs in white fluffy clouds, illuminated in the hazy morning light. It looks like a witches cauldron. Eagerly we step into the warm water, comforting in the crisp morning air. As we settle in, neck deep, beside a small sun dappled waterfall a solitary tramp emerges from the steam, towel and soap in hand and offers a friendly wave before disappearing into the trees. This is the weirdest and most magical bath time I’ve ever experienced!
Back in England, if someone had asked me to sleep in a campervan for three weeks and bathe in the river with a tramp I’d have laughed in their face! But this is New Zealand where the rivers are geothermal hot pools rich in healing minerals, tramps are as nice as pie and campervans are the way to travel! What other mode of transport allows you to slip out of your bed and straight into a hot spring in the wilderness?
It’s a sheer 1000 ft drop on either side to the canyon floor. One wrong move and it’s game over. Even the condors don’t venture this high but swoop gracefully below, distracting us from the task at hand. On either side the valley stretches into the distance, it’s rich red craggy walls splashed with white like a giant has kicked over the paint tin. Far below us the Virgin River, so tiny from up here, curls like a discarded blue ribbon, dropped and forgotten in the grass. It’s a miracle that anyone keeps their footing on this path with such breathtaking scenery!
We’re walking the Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park, one of the USA’s most beautiful national parks, and the south western corner of America is positively brimming with them! Within a few hundred miles you can travel to world wonders, quirky towns and iconic landscapes. You can start your morning horse riding on a ranch in the Grand Canyon, run like Forest Gump through Monument Valley in the afternoon and watch sunset through one of 2000 natural sandstone arches in Arches National Park.
There are dozens of national parks scattered across southwest USA, all completely unique from one another and packed full of adventure potential.
It’s pitch black. The dense jungle around us is oddly quiet, the creatures lurking within biding their time, waiting until we glide by in our little wooden boat before continuing on their nightly business. The only sound is the gentle slap of a paddle in the inky black water as we navigate our way through a maze of tributaries.
Suddenly two eyes appear in the darkness, illuminated by the torchlight. We paddle towards them and before I can utter a word, our boatman Joe plunges his hands into the water and plucks out a 1 metre long baby alligator. Continue reading
Melbourne made us giddy. From the moment we set foot in Federation Square, surrounded by shiny high rise buildings and hip cafes we were possessed by a strange energy. Maybe it was the heady coffee aroma which permeates every street corner seeping into our bodies, or maybe it was the influence of the fitness obsessed Melbournians rubbing off on us. Either way, Melbourne has a cool electricity which, like the current of the Yarra river which runs through it, is impossible to resist.
However, every backpacker knows that visiting cities on a shoestring budget can be tricky. Like a poor kid in a sweet shop we press our noses to the restaurant windows gazing enviously at the heaving plates of gourmet food or avert our eyes as we pass shop menequins draped in designer handbags, before trudging back to our hostel for a third night of beans on toast.
The good news is Melbourne has plenty to offer even the most financially challenged backpacker. Check out our list if the top ten free (or cheap) things to do in Melbourne. Continue reading