Category Archives: Travel
7. Coyhaique, Chile
Coyhaique is in a bit of a no man’s land for visitors to Chile, as it’s just too north of tourist favorite Torres del Paine to make it a viable option for visitors with limited time. However, ditching those plans for a few days or a week in Coyhaique and the surrounding area is a gorgeous alternative. From the town center, bike ride to the nearby national park or rent a car to do away with the reliance on guided tours. Along the drive to Capillas de Marmol, stopping will be a frequent occurrence to photograph the stunning scenery, and it only gets better. Capillas de Marmol is a natural marble structure in a glacial lake, which has been smoothed out by the waves, and boats can navigate through the shallow caves. Get back on the road to see a dead forest rising out of a lake, typical southern Chile cemeteries and a receding glacier, all while enjoying the peace and quiet of an undiscovered place.
6. Montevideo, Uruguay
Carnival is synonymous with Brazil, but it’s actually Montevideo that has the world’s longest Carnival celebration. The 40-day long festivity of course includes fabulous women in headdresses and little else, and also integrates traditional Uruguayan culture. The most famous element is llamadas, the iconic drum parades. In Uruguay, drum groups dress up as magicians, old women or medicine men, and play candombe beats, keeping alive a tradition started with black slaves. The other local custom are muras, or political satires, and judges travel the country to see the performances before crowning the winning troupe at the final parade. Rio’s Carnival may be the biggest, but Montevideo’s is the longest, and since it’s lesser-known, it’s slightly easier to get in on the action.
5. Cordillera Real, Bolivia
Stock up on coca leaves to alleviate the altitude sickness, because the Cordillera Real waits for no complaints of dizziness. Southeast of tourist favorite Lake Titicaca, the sometimes excruciating but always worth it Cordillera is a test of strength, with seven peaks measuring in at above 6,000 meters. Intrepid trekkers will need to hire a guide and bring good equipment. One of the main advantages is the ability to travel at your own pace, soaking in the oversized mountains and glaciers and occasional Quechua villages until you catch your breath, only to have it stolen away again around the next bend.
4. Kaieteur Falls, Guyana
Tiny Guyana is often overlooked and vastly underrated, but the lack of infrastructure and a tourist sector puts Guyana squarely on the off the beaten path list. One of the country’s crowning jewels is Kaieteur Falls, an impressive 822-foot high cascade and highest single drop waterfall in the world, in the middle of Kaieteur National Park. Make it a truly memorable and muscle-building experience by taking a week-long trek through the Amazon up to the falls.
3. Panantal Wetlands, Brazil
Split between Paraguay, Bolivia and two Brazilian states, the world’s largest wetland is rich in diverse wildlife and practically untouched by visitors. The immense marsh, which is 80% flooded in the rainy season, hosts rare jaguars, howler monkeys, anacondas and an incredible array of butterflies and birds. With no access roads and no towns, most travel by small airplane and motorboats. Burgeoning cooperation between environmental organizations and cattle ranchers is slowly bringing awareness to the need to preserve this special, absolutely out-of-the-way place.
2. Chuao, Venezuela
Home to some of the world’s best cacao, Chuao overloads the senses with chocolatey smooth finesse. The town is best accessed by boat, as it sits between a mountain and the Caribbean. From the boat it’s an hour’s walk into town, where piles of cacao beans dry in the sun in the main square, and the scent of the finished product wafts from storefronts. The town itself has been widely known for its premium chocolate for centuries, but it still retains a sleepy small-town feel. After playing on the empty beaches, visitors can work off all that sweet tooth indulgence with a two-hour hike in Henri Pittier National Park to the El Chorreron waterfalls.
1. Uribia, Guajira, Colombia
Held from August 16-18 every year in the northeast Caribbean state of Guajira, the Wayúu Cultural Festival showcases the tribe’s rich cultural rituals, folklore, music, food and more. The matriarchal society in has hosted the festival since 1985 and allows visitors to feast on traditional dishes like goat, check out wrestling, horse racing and stone-throwing matches, and see up close how women make their hammocks. Wayúu children also perform their traditions, including weddings, wakes and spiritual celebrations. This is the place to soak up culture with nary another foreigner in sight.
The State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia
Melbourne landmark and superb example of heritage architecture, the library is made up of 23 buildings and takes up an entire city block. Building construction started in 1854 and the facility features some of the most breathtaking heritage interiors in Melbourne. Considered by many to be one of the greatest libraries in the world, the State Library houses over two million books, hundreds of thousands of maps, manuscripts and newspapers and a variety of digital material. The works contained in the library reflect Victorian culture over the past 150 years and visitors to the institution can take a free guided tour to learn more about the establishment and its history. One of the highlights of the library is the La Trobe Reading Room, which features a stunning domed ceiling. Tourists can also browse two free permanent exhibitions, one of which features famous bushranger Ned Kelly’s armor and the other a history of books. Visitors can play chess, watch films and admire art — the library is home to three free art galleries.
The Royal Library in Copenhagen, Denmark
The Royal Library in Copenhagen is a “must-see” destination in Denmark’s capital. Spread over four sites, it is home to almost all known printed Danish works, including the first book that was published in 1482. While Copenhagen boasts many fine buildings, one of the most impressive is the 1999 extension to the Royal Library that’s known as the Black Diamond. With a black marble and glass exterior and a magnificent interior featuring an eight-story atrium with wave-shaped walls and a huge ceiling fresco, this is a visually stunning library. The Black Diamond wing doubled the size of the original Royal Library, and is connected to it by a number of bridges. The architectural masterpiece leans out over a canal and provides beautiful water views and a peaceful place to get lost in the works of Hans Christian Andersen.
The Stuttgart City Library in Stuttgart, Germany
Another library with a simple, modern design that has the feel of an art gallery, the Stuttgart City Library is one of Germany’s premier destinations for book lovers. The library has been designed as an intellectual and cultural center for Stuttgart and features a huge, white, four-story central space called the Heart that represents both the spatial and meditative center of the building. Above this core lies a five-story, pyramid-shaped, atrium reading room. The neutral, white-colored design of the interior is designed to showcase books, and indeed the whole library is a stunning architectural wonder that stands out in the city.
The Central Library in Seattle, Washington
With a design that makes it look more like a classy hotel than a library, the Central Library in Seattle features 11 levels and is made from glass and steel. The modern building opened in 2004 and is divided into eight horizontal layers, each with a varying size to fit a relevant function. The Central Library currently houses over one million itemsand has 9,906 shelves devoted to books — it has a capacity to grow even larger though and will be able to hold 1.45 million books and materials when at capacity.
The Old Library at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland
The Trinity College “Old Library” is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Dublin and was first constructed in the 18th century. One of the most beautiful libraries in Ireland, it houses the famous Book of Kells, a gospel manuscript created by Celtic monks around the year 800. The library contains a collection of 200,000 of Trinity’s oldest books and features a distinctive barrel ceiling, marble busts of famous authors and philosophers and a central walkway that spans nearly 200 feet.
This house near Mission Soledad
This picture shows an abandoned house in Soledad in Monterey County. The house is located near Mission Soledad, which was founded by the Franciscan order in 1791 to convert the Native Americans to Catholicism. Spanish missions were some of the first efforts by Europeans to colonize the Pacific Coast of America.
In the Port of San Francisco
What is simply known as Building #6, located in the Pier 70 area at the Port of San Francisco, was once used for ship building during WWII. It has been left abandoned since the 1989 earthquake, which also left some 3,000–12,000 San Franciscans homeless. Building #6 is now illegally used by graffiti artists.
Eagle Mountain High School in Desert Center
The class of 1983 was the last to graduate from Eagle Mountain High School in Desert Center, which was boarded up and closed for good with students moving to Palo Verde High School in Blythe. The population of Desert Center, a town that was founded in 1921 by ‘Desert Steve’ Ragsdale, is currently around 200.
The Saloon in Bodie
What was once a booming town, awash with prospectors and known for its gold mines, Bodie is now famous as a “wild west” ghost town and attracts around 200,000 tourists every year. Visitors can walk around the deserted streets of Bodie and peer into houses and buildings, such as the pictured saloon, with interiors left as they were upon desertion back in the early 1910s.
Tagus Ranch in Tulare
This photo shows the Tagus Ranch, which opened its doors in 1912. It once hosted live music, theatre and offered cocktails, food and a place to stay for the night. As well as being known as one of the best restaurants in America, Tagus Ranch served as a German POW camp towards the end of WWII.
Spotting stations on the Pacific Coast
This spotting post is one of two that look out across the Pacific Ocean from California. The men who manned the stations would use azimuth scopes to take the bearings of distant enemy ships – they were experts on identifying the ships silhouettes.
Treasure Island Bowling Alley in San Francisco
This man-made island was created in 1936 and was home to the U.S. military from the 1940s until its abandonment. In addition to the bowling alley that is pictured, Treasure Island is also home to an abandoned cinema, swimming pool and lots of army barracks. The view of Alcatraz Island in the distance gives Treasure Island a particularly eerie feel.
6) Copenhagen, Denmark
The capital of the happiest country on Earth, Copenhagen is effortlessly romantic and very ‘lagom’ (pronounced ‘lar-gohm’) which means to say it’s ‘just the right amount of everything’. Pay a visit to Cupid at the Thorvaldsen Museum. Enjoy a quiet stroll along the waterfront. Experience the city’s sophisticated café culture with a cup of hot coffee and some mouth-watering pastries. Take it all in, one step at a time, and you will soon realise the perfect dosage of romance has already synchronised with your pace.
5) Isle of Skye, Scotland
A land of Norse legend, the Isle of Skye impresses all who visit her with otherworldly scenes that appear almost straight from a Tolkien epic. The jagged mountain ranges, vast lochs and dramatic waterfalls make this unspoilt terrain a romantic destination without any glamour or pretense. Put on your hiking shoes and head to the Old Man of Storr. Go for a wild swim at the Fairy Pools. After experiencing the magic of Skye, you will realise romance has a supernatural facet too.
4) Fussen, Germany
At the end of the 400km (249 miles) theme-route Romantic Road (Romantische Straße), you will arrive in Füssen and be spellbound by the fairy-tale Neuschwanstein Castle, half expecting Prince Charming to arrive on horseback at any second. If this castle looks familiar to you, that’s because Disney based the designs for its Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland, California on the Neuschwanstein. Visit the castle and create your own chapter of a fairy-tale story here amidst the magnificent Bavarian Alps.
3) Lapland, Finland
If your utopia is riding a snowmobile into the wild and watching the aurora borealis (northern lights) dance across the night sky, then Lapland, Finland’s northernmost region, is the place for you and your loved one. Once you have enough of luminous green and blue hues flowing above you, you can retreat back to a cosy and intimate log cabin complete with sauna and crackling log fire. The outside world is a distant memory and you only have eyes for each other.
2) Cinque Terre, Italy
The Cinque Terre region is arguably the most charming destination in the Italian Riviera; its five colourful fishing villages boast cute terrace buildings that seemingly defy gravity, bravely clinging to the rugged cliff-faces. Head to Manarola, perhaps the oldest town in the Cinque Terre, for a photo that will make your friends envy. Don’t forget to take a stroll on The Way of Love (Via dell’Amore) with your loved one. If the perfect setting doesn’t put you in the mood, the local wine Sciacchetrà certainly will.
1) Santorini, Greece
Your heart will likely skip a beat when you stand before these classy white-washed buildings with blue domed roofs in Santorini, with Aegean Sea below you and the glare of the sun flickering above you. This is the place of romance for countless couples. While most people unwind at Fira, head to Oia for a lovely beach retreat. You’ll need to take over 200 steps to reach the Ammoudi bay – but expect soft sands, warm blue waters and plenty of sunshine. With one of the world’s most romantic destinations as your backdrop, you’ll feel loved, contented, and incredibly happy. Such is the magic of romance!
That being said, on first impressions the city can appear overwhelming so make sure you consult our guide to Getting Around Kolkata before you even leave the airport. Don’t think about driving, and buses are also hopelessly overcrowded; instead, hop onto an auto-rickshaw, or one of the lumbering trams that circle the city. Taxis are also cheap and plentiful and work on a meter system.
Once you’re out and about, there are several not-to-be-missed sights. The Indian Museum, set in a building dating from 1875, offers an insight into the city during the colonial era as well as rare collections of historical importance that include art, archaeology, zoology and botany.
Another landmark you can’t help but notice is Victoria Memorial, a domed colonial-era marble building set on the edge of the Maidan, which happens to be one of the world’s largest urban parks.
The city also has a number of notable Hindu temples, a cathedral and a cemetery; for information and further inspiration see our guide on Things To See in Kolkata.
Boat tours of the Hoogly River, a distributary of the Ganges, are a great way to see the city, and usually include a stop at the Botanical Gardens and Belur Math, a complex founded by the 19th century sage, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who desired a unity of all religions. Sights here include a museum, a ghat and various temples – Ramakrishna Mandir is fittingly a fascinating fusion of Hindu, Christian and Islamic motifs.
Sustenance is easy to come by as Kolkata abounds in street food vendors offering delicious fare – try one of the Kathi rolls (Indian flatbreads served with various fillings) that the city is famous for.
You’ll also find Jewish bakeries, Chinese bazaars and international fare, but best of all is traditional Bengali cuisine, usually made from recipes passed through generations. Bengalis also love their desserts, so you’ll be spoiled for choice. We’ve selected some of the best restaurants in the city for our guide to Restaurants in Kolkata.
Kolkata is one of the best places in India to hear traditional music, so catch a performance at the Academy of Fine Arts. Those of a more hedonistic bent will find clubs catering to most tastes, from rock and dance to jazz, and a highlight of Nightlife in Kolkata has to be a visit to the Tollygunge, a private members country club with fading Raj-era décor and a bar. Temporary memberships are available; make sure you dress smartly for the occasion.
The weather in Kolkata really will impact your stay, so it’s advisable to visit during the months of October to April. In summer, temperatures are stifling, and the monsoon brings heavy rainfall from June-September.
The city is also a gateway to further delights, as covered in our section on What To Do in Kolkata. Sunderbans National Park, set 127km (79 miles) from the city, has a number of endangered species, including royal Bengal tigers, saltwater crocodiles and Ganges River dolphins.
1) Tackle a favourite trek…
Along with food and wine, the outdoors plays a huge role in Basque life. Misty peaks dotted with weathered farmsteads surround the city, and it’s a common sight to see locals packing up their cars to spend a weekend scaling a summit.
Those with a proclivity for plodding should amble to the top of Monte Urgull (123m/404ft), where a 12m-high (39ft) sculpture of Jesus Christ overlooks the city. Experienced ramblers should head to the iconic crucifix-strewn summit of Hernio (1,075m/3,527ft), a more challenging peak and a popular pilgrimage point in September.
2) Pinch a pintxos or three…
The perfect symbol of the sociable and indulgent nature of the Basque people, pintxos (a bite-sized snack consumed during drinking sessions) has become synonymous with easy-going San Sebastián.
As the sun begins to dip behind Monte Igueldo, the tiny taverns that line the snaking alleyways of the city’s old quarter fill their bars with miniature portions of fish and meats, often spread on small slabs of crusty bread. Jolly locals wander in for a beer and a bite then wobble off to find their next haunt. Fish lovers will adore the anchovies at Bar Txepetxa (Calle de la Pescadería 5), while sweet-toothed punters should sample La Viña’s (Calle del Treinta y Uno de Agosto 3) famous baked cheesecake.
3) Sample the Spanish surf scene…
While the swells don’t measure up to those that pound the shores of cross-boarder cousin Biarritz, San Sebastián has a healthy and flourishing surf scene spanning across its two crescent-shaped shores.
The beauteous La Concha Beach (named after its iconic shell-like shape) is the ideal setting for complete novices, with gentle swells favoured by the city’s paddle-boarding crowd.
Across the Urumea River, the Sagüés district is the crest of the city’s main surf scene, with bars and cafés around Zurriola Beach continuously crammed with olive-skinned locals with surfboard in tow. Here, lessons are offered to visitors by numerous schools, including Pukas Surf Eskola, the longest running surf school in Spain.
4) Get lost in a dream world…
One of the standout events of San Sebastián’s chocked 2016 schedule will be the immersive open-air performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Coinciding with the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, the play will run for four weeks from the 21 June.
The city’s atmospheric Cristina Enea Park provides a fitting stand-in for the play’s fairy woodland setting, where audiences chase the action through the trunks of ginkgo and redwood trees as peacocks prowl nearby. The play will incorporate a banquet and be performed in modern English, Spanish and Basque.
5) Catch a game of Basque pelota…
Capturing the imagination of great minds, including Paul Newman and Ernest Hemingway, Basque pelota is perhaps the most famous and visually spectacular of the traditional Basque sports.
The game has many varieties but loosely resembles an old-fashioned form of squash. Initially played on the exterior walls of churches, you’re likely to find a simple version of hand pelota (where the hand is used to hit the ball) being played on makeshift frontons(courts) throughout San Sebastián.
For a real spectacle, head to the Galarreta Fronton in Hernani, where the pros bestowed with xisteras (gloves that extend into a long pointed curved basket) do battle in front of bellowing sell-out crowds.
6) Scout out some new street art…
Specially commissioned for this year’s festivities, the city and its surrounds have benefited from a lick of paint courtesy of acclaimed local and foreign street artists.
The Walls That Talk project sees artists teaming up with local communities to create large murals that depict images of coexistence painted on large walls, traditionally a symbol of division and separation. Don’t miss Harsha’s Fisher of Dreams in Roman Irigoyen Park or Hormachic’s comment on immigration in the neighbouring town of Errenteria.
Surgical spirit at Siriraj Medical Museum
While trying to find free things to do on our first visit to Bangkok we came across this museum on the same site as the Siriraj hospital in Wang Leng. This museum is not for the faint-hearted. It tells a gruesome tale of Thailand’s medical history, with lots of specimens, some of which are weird and gross. There is an interesting section about the 2004 tsunami, with some accounts from doctors and nurses who flew out to help.
Stunning skyline views
For the best view of the city, take the lift to the Vertigo and Moon bar on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel. You don’t need to be a resident, or even buy a drink, to enjoy this stunning overview of the city. There aren’t many places you can get such an experience for free, and it’s even better at night.
Books, tea and a toastie
After hours walking around in the heat, feeling hot and sticky, I stumbled across Passport bookshop on Phra Sumen road. It’s tiny, quiet and cool with a few small tables to sit at with a cup of tea. There were even cheese toasties! A great spot to step out of the madness for an hour or two.
Canal plus – explore Bangkok’s khlongs
Many tourist itineraries feature a cruise along the Chao Phraya river, but for a more authentic view of local life, venture into the city’s network of khlongs(canals). Hire a colourful longtail boat, or hop on and off one of the ubiquitous water taxis, and get ready to be transported into another world. Pass under ornate Italian bridges and drift past ramshackle wooden stilt houses and walkways hanging precariously over the “fragrant” water. Stop off at silk entrepreneur Jim Thompson’s house, or shop till you drop at the contrasting Bobae wholesale clothes market and ultra-modern Siam Square.
Gem of a riverside guesthouse
The New Siam guesthouse in the old city is well situated for tourists – it’s close to a riverboat stop and the market – and cheap (doubles from £10). Friends recommended this B&B years ago and we have always come back to stay here. I think it’s a real gem.
Makes tracks to the train market
Eight times a day, seven days a week, this train passes – quite literally – through the Maeklong market. Vendors have to quickly remove their stalls from the tracks then resume as if nothing has happened. It’s rather spectacular. The easiest way to get there is to book a half-day tour, which includes the infamous Damnoen Saduak floating market.
Exmoor national park, Somerset and Devon
On the clearest nights on the north Devon moors the human eye can detect about 3,000 stars, with the best sites at Holdstone Hill, County Gate, Brendon Two Gates, Webbers Post, Anstey Gate, Haddon Hill and Wimbleball Lake. Events this year include a 12-hour night run; forest and full-moon walks; and summer family campouts. Exmoor national park became Europe’s first international dark sky reserve in November 2011.
Brecon Beacons national park, south Wales
In the Brecon Beacons, a dark sky reserve since February 2013, the best spots to set up a telescope are Usk Reservoir, the ruins of Llanthony Priory, Carreg Cennen castle and the national park visitor centre. The Stargazers Retreat is a converted stable sleeping two between Trecastle and Crai, and has its own observatory (from £50 a night).
Snowdonia national park, Gwynedd and Conwy
Five of the top spots in this dark sky reserve are the lakes Llyn y Dywarchen, Llyn Geirionydd and Llynnau Cregennen; Tŷ Cipar, a former gamekeeper’s house; and Bwlch y Groes, a mountain pass. The North Wales Astronomy Society organises monthly observing nights.
North York Moors national park
The park has three dark sky discovery sites, where the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye and up to 2,000 stars can be seen: Danby, Sutton Bank and the observatories in Dalby Forest. Other great sites for stargazing are Rievaulx Terrace, Old Saltburn, Boulby Cliff, Kettleness and Ravenscar. Celestial shows to look out for this year include the Perseid meteor shower (peaks 12-13 August), the Orionids meteor shower (peaks 20-22 October), the supermoon (when the moon appears larger than normal because of its proximity to the Earth, 3 December) and the Gemini meteor showers (13-14 December). The Scarborough and Ryedale Astronomical Society holds monthly public stargazing events in Dalby Forest (8-10pm, first Friday of the month, October to March), and Starfest is a three-night camp there each August. Hidden Horizons runs celestial exploring events along the coast, where the northern lights sometimes appear, and the whole region is another Dark Skies festival venue.
Yorkshire dales national park, North Yorkshire
This park has four dark sky discovery sites: Hawes and Malham national park centres, Buckden car park and Tan Hill inn. It is the third location of the Dark Skies festival, and will host a pop-up planetarium in Grassington, rocket-making workshops across the park, and stargazing events and talks in and around Sedbergh. Three holiday cottages in West Burton and Newbiggin supply free kit for stargazing guests, including a telescope and binoculars, a guidebook, deckchairs, picnic basket and blankets (cottageinthedales.co.uk).
Northumberland national park, Northumberland
Together with Kielder Water and Forest park, this international dark sky park has gold-tier status, which means “the full array of visible sky phenomena” can be viewed, such as the northern lights, airglow (atmospheric light), the Milky Way, zodiacal light (sunlight scattered by space dust) and meteors. There are 12 dark sky discovery sites, including Battlesteads hotel and observatory (doubles from £100 B&B), which holds weekly events including shooting star suppers, and Stonehaugh, which has a stargazing pavilion. Kielder Observatory has daily events such as night sky safaris, aurora nights and full-moon parties, whileKielder Waterside Park (lodges sleeping four from £304 a week) has new luxury lodges with their own stargazing pods.
Galloway forest park, Dumfries and Galloway
More than 7,000 stars and planets are visible with the naked eye from this first UK dark sky park (designated in 2009), and it has a sky quality reading of 21-23.6 (the scale is 0-25; Edinburgh would be eight and a photographer’s darkroom 24). The best places to stargaze are Clatteringshaws vistor centre, which overlooks the darkest part of the park, and the panoramic viewing points at either end of the Carrick Forest Drive. Clatteringshaws and Kirroughtree visitor centres run stargazing events with talks by dark sky rangers. The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory near Dalmellington also hosts events, and visitors can observe the sky through its research-grade telescope.
Coll, Inner Hebrides
Coll was the world’s second dark sky island (after Sark in the Channel Islands), and has three dark sky discovery sites: Arinagour, RSPB Totronold and Cliad football pitch. Deep-sky objects that are visible in far more detail to the naked eye than in urban areas include star clusters such as the Beehive and the Double Cluster, and the Great Orion Nebula. New hostel the Coll Bunkhouse (dorm beds from £21 a night) holds three stargazing weekends a year (from £81 adult, £67 young person if booked two months ahead, 18-19 March, 16-17 September, 14-15 October) with a mobile Cosmos Planetarium. The course includes 10 hours of tuition with astronomers.
For a long time, whenever I was spotted using Google Maps to navigate London’s public transport network a friend would look over and prod: “Oh, don’t you use Citymapper?” Eventually, I relented.
Comprehensive, easy to use and also playful, Citymapper offers more detailed journey planner information than Google, including real-time departures and disruption alerts, as well as Uber integration and cycle routes. It is available in around 30 cities worldwide, with all the obvious city-break destinations covered. It even tells you how long your journey will take by jetpack – useless information really, but hopefully something to cheer you up when your train is cancelled.
Over 70 million people have registered with Duolingo, a free and incredibly well-designed language learning app. Though not a replacement for proper language tuition, the app is a fun way to get the basics, or to keep yourself fresh on grammar and vocabulary, before a trip abroad. Just like a computer game, the app guides you through levels that you need to complete before advancing, and you gain experience points along the way.
XE is the go-to site for currency conversions on the web, so it’s no surprise that its app is so popular: with over 20 million downloads since launch. It has lots of business-oriented features, such as rates for precious metals and historic currency charts, but for the traveller it is most useful for the simple fact that it’s able to convert every world currency. It also functions offline by saving the last updated rates, which is great if you’re in a place with limited connectivity or trying to save on data.
A bit like a pocket travel agent, Tripit pulls together travel information from your confirmation emails for flights, hotels, rental cars, events bookings and converts it into a single itinerary. Just forward your emails to the app and it will do the rest. If you’re travelling with others you can easily share the plans, making this a useful app for coordinating a group trip.
There is a selection of apps out there to help you split bills (Tipulator, Splitwiseetc), but Splittr is geared up for travelling, providing a simple platform to share costs between friends. You can enter expenses as you go, including who paid what and the app will do the rest. A nice touch for longer, multi-destination trips is that all currencies are supported and you can mix currencies without having to do the conversion yourself.
App in the Air
Not exactly slick by name, though certainly slick by nature, App in the Air is a smart, straightforward, flight tracking app that has the best coverage of airlines and airports. It will keep you updated about flight status – even if you don’t have internet coverage – and helps you manage your time at the airport, breaking down each flight into four stages; check in, boarding, takeoff and landing time. It also integrates with Tripit (above) allowing you to import all your flights.
This translator can be a useful tool to support your own, more serious language learning, but realistically, it’s most useful on a practical level quickly translating day-to-day words you come across on your travels. For example, you can hold your camera up to text – such as a sign, or a menu – and Google will translate it for you instantly. It’s an essential app for any traveller.
This ambitious app creates a digital journal of your travels so you can look back on your trips on an interactive map. The app tracks you as you go, marking a red line along a map on the exact route you take; the app also monitors your speed and altitude, making it great for adventure travellers, though it’s just as fun to look back at your route around a city. You can add pictures, video, audio and text along the way, creating a multimedia travel diary you can share.
Wolfram Sun Exposure
There are a few apps out there that help you manage your time in the sun safely, but this one offers the most detailed information to keep you informed. You enter your skin type and it calculates how long you can spend sunning yourself before getting burned, based on the time of day, where you are and the strength of sun cream you’re wearing. It also provides UV forecasts for your location.
When you’re done browsing Guardian Travel, of course, the Time Out app is a great directory of ideas of things to do in cities around the world. With coverage from Accra to Amsterdam, Edinburgh to Singapore, the app covers everything from bars, restaurants, attractions and events. The event finder is a particularly useful tool, meaning you’ll never struggle to find the most popular concerts, festivals or one-off happenings going on around you. You can also book restaurants and concert tickets through the app and create a customised travel guide for your holiday.
The Best Time to Visit The Big Island
Tourism season dips between September and November as families are leaving from summer vacations, so this is great time to enjoy reasonable hotel prices and lots of sunshine.
Surfers will likely catch the best waves from December to March, but it’s also pricey time to visit in late winter as many people come to escape harsh winter conditions in other areas of the country. Visiting during April or May can lead to cheaper hotel prices as well, but temperatures won’t be as warm as in the fall.
You can expect to spend a large portion of your trip’s budget on your flight to Hawaii, so try to save money here any way you can. Travel on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday for the lowest airfare prices; depending on where you fly out from, just being flexible on the day you fly out will save you on average between $100-$300.
It might be easier to just click the “round-trip” button when searching for flights, but booking flights separately can pay off in a really big way. Booking a domestic flight from your nearest city to the west coast (think Los Angeles or San Diego) through a budget airline like Southwest, and then booking your flight from there to the Big Island can save you $100+ total per person.
If you want to explore both sides of the island, consider booking one-way flights, arriving in Kona and departing from Hilo — or vice versa.
Lastly, book as early as possible. This is not one of those vacations you’ll want to “wait and see” if you’ll find any last-minute deals, because you almost never will. I would recommend booking at least 5 months in advance, but plan your trip even sooner if you can.
Consistently temperate weather on the island with temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s make Hawaii a warm, tropical paradise all year long. Daily showers are common in any month or time of year, however there are usually more storms and rainfall in winter months between October and March. With this in mind, pack light layers!
Where to Stay on The Big Island, Hawaii
A short 30 minute drive north of the Kona Airport is Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel — just a two-minute walk from the widely popular Hapuna Beach. All rooms boast amazing ocean views, and the hotel itself has every vacation amenity you could need. Families or groups might consider renting a condo for more space and cheaper prices, like the beach-side condo resort Royal Sea Cliff Kona that has a central location and rates as low as $115/night in the off season.
On the eastern side of the island, the Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel and intimate Hale Kai Hawaii Bed & Breakfast are great options near Hilo.
How to Get Around
Without a doubt, rent a car. A drive around the entire island (without stops) can be done in as little as 6-7 hours, so splurge a little on a 4 wheel drive and spend a few days exploring! There are too many must-see spots scattered around — both along the coast and hidden in lush reserves — to stay in one spot the entire duration of your stay.
Hawaiian Airlines does offer flights from one side of the island to the other, and taxis are available in urban areas near hotels and airports, but both are pricey; I would recommend against both. Renting a car is the best bang for your buck, given the freedom it allows you and the time it saves.
Top Things to Do on the Big Island, Hawaii
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
With one of the world’s most active volcanoes, this beautiful national park might be one of the most unique parks in the country! Lava flow straight from the volcano into the sea at Kamokuna is a sight not to be missed, and take a drive around the Crater Rim for a spectacular view.
I’d also recommend making one of your stops the Thurston Lava Tube — an awesome lava tube discovered over 100 years ago with lush forest surroundings and interesting formations created by rushing red lava.
The Waipi’o Valley is a stunning valley on the northern coast of the island, and is most easily experienced with a guide rather than navigated alone (private property makes accidental trespassing all too easy!). Take in the towering Hi’ilawe Falls — Hawaii’s tallest waterfall! — from afar at the Hi’ilawe Falls Lookout, or hike through the valley floor to reach the foot of the falls and experience it firsthand.
Fair Wind Snorkel Cruise
A half-day morning cruise with snorkeling, BBQ, and water slides is the perfect way to spend a day on the water in Kona! Should you choose a shorter trip in the evening, you can even have an up-close-and-personal experience with the gentle manta rays known to inhabit an area just five minutes from the coast. We love that this activity is great for couples, friends, and families alike!
Just west of Hilo lies the 80-foot Waianuene waterfall, nicknamed Rainbow Falls for its abundant rainbows. This postcard-worthy beauty is easily accessible (for viewing) in the Wailuku River State Park, but if you’re set on swimming you can do so at the nearby PeePee Falls and adjoining boiling pots at your own risk. This is a great place to see a spectacular waterfall without having to venture too far off the beaten path.