Where To Get The Most Out Of Patagonia

nestor-galina-on-flikr
Perito Moreno Glacier, El Chalten by Nestor Galina on Flikr

Whether you’re visiting Argentinian or Chilean Patagonia, this area is sure to be a highlight of your trip to South America. The scenery is mesmerising, with rolling hills, jagged peaks and best of all, gigantic glaciers. They are an outstandingly beautiful natural wonder and this is the most accessible place in the world to view such big ones. My tips are for Argentinan Patagonia as this is where I travelled to last Christmas (and after extensive research the side that looked like it would be the most rewarding), it was an incredible trip and I can’t wait to go back and visit the Chilean side!

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A quick run down of where the highlights are

El Calafate

It’s not a particularly cute town but it serves it’s purpose of being a good base to explore the surrounding glaciers, and for getting to El Chalten and other areas. Food and drinks are overpriced but tasty. We stayed at Rincon Hotel which was absolutely wonderful and very cheap, because it’s a 15 minute walk out of town. If you don’t mind the walk, you’ll get a gorgeous room with great service, a lovely lounge with a fireplace and delicious breakfast.

There are plenty of tour agencies in town that offer a huge variety of tours of the surrounding glaciers, mostly the same stuff for different prices as usual. You can do anything from boat cruisesice treks and even kayaking. There’s loads of options to suit every budget, the cheapest being a short trek on the Perito Moreno Glacier ($100) and the more expensive being kayaking through ice caves ($400). You don’t need to book tours before your trip starts, unless you want to reserve a space on the Big Ice Trek (7 hours on the ice as opposed to 2) or kayaking, but this is weather dependent anyway so just because you book ahead it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll go. High season (November – January) might see some tours selling out quicker, on Christmas eve we managed to get on a mini trekking tour the day before, but not big ice trekking.

The mini trekking was excellent and more than enough time on the ice. It included a boat ride, trekking on the ice and time on the incredible walkways to view the glacier which is an activity in itself and well worth doing even if you don’t do the ice trek. There is a public bus that goes here to view the glaciers from the walkways so you don’t have to book a tour necessarily. If you can get onto the ice for a short trek, I highly recommend it, it’s the only way to see the true blue of the glacial crevasses and it’s truly unique.

The glacier museum is excellent, very informative and engaging with excellent information that really puts into context just how incredible glaciers are. There is a free shuttle from town to the museum, and an ice bar there if you fancy it too.

El Chalten

El Chalten by by Nestor Galina on Flikr
El Chalten by by Nestor Galina on Flikr

There are dozens of treks you can do here by yourself lasting from 1 hour to a few days (take good camping gear!) The tourist information point at the bus station will give you a clear map and advise you on the best treks based on your fitness level.

You can get a bus independently from El Calafate to El Chalten, it takes about 3 hours, you can usually book it the day before but they’re always full so don’t leave it until the last minute!

There’s plenty of other activities to do here including rock climbing and kayaking, you can easily spend a week here soaking up with chilled out atmosphere and stunning views. Don’t miss a meal at the cute cafe Mathilde.

Ushuaia

Ushuaia Pier by David Stanley on Flikr
Ushuaia Pier by David Stanley on Flikr

It’s a long way down to Ushuaia but it’s worth it if you want to feel like your at the edge of the world, in fact it’s the most southern town in the world so you literally are. This is the place to come if you want to visit Antarctica but it doesn’t come cheap, and to say it’s cold would be an understatement so make sure you’re prepared!

Boat tours to see penguins, orcas and sea lions are popular here, you can book tours from any one of the huts at the port. Shop around for the best deal and make sure you know what type of boat it is and what wildlife you’re going to see. Patagonian Adventures is around $56 USD for a 4 hour trip.

You can also visit Tierra del Fuego national park here which is full of beautiful scenery, though in my opinion it pales in comparison to that of the glaciers in El Calafate.

Accommodation here must be booked in advance, its incredibly expensive no matter which season you visit in.
For more ideas on where to travel in Argentina, get in touch! 

The Alternative Guide to Northern Vietnam

Going on holiday to a popular country always poses the same problem: wanting to see the very best sights the country has to offer whilst not feeling too much like a tourist on the same tourist trail as everyone else. Balancing these two desires can be somewhat of a nightmare and at times is unavoidable. This is certainly true of Vietnam, an incredibly popular country to visit with some striking attractions including Ha Long Bay, the rice terraces of Sapa and the enchanting historic town of Hoi An. However this is a also a country well versed in tourism which unfortunately can result in a lot of scams, overcrowded attractions and pushy agents. This should absolutely not deter you, this is one of my favourite countries with so much to offer, you just need to know how to handle it! That’s where I come in.

Visit Bai Tu Long Bay instead of Ha Long Bay

Bai Tu Long Bay by Adam Straney on Flikr
Bai Tu Long Bay by Adam Straney on Flikr

Whilst Ha Long Bay is beautiful, many agents will fail to mention that it’s often overcrowded with boats and has a real rubbish problem. You can still find unspoilt corners of this adventure playground if you go with the right agency, but I preferred Bai Tu Long Bay just next door. It’s much quieter, cleaner and very impressive despite the limestone karsts being slightly smaller.

Avoid Sapa and head to Pu Luong National Park

Pu Luong by Nguyen Vinh Quang on Flikr
Pu Luong by Nguyen Vinh Quang on Flikr

Sapa is a truly unique destination for the impressive rice terraces that cling to the mountainsides. However to visit in peace is unheard of. The local Hmong People are infamous for their pushiness and guilt trips and you must be prepared to be firm. Personally I decided against visiting here because of this well oiled tourism racket and the fact that in May it wasn’t the best time to see the rice terraces anyway. For a more peaceful experience of the rice terraces my first recommendation is actually India, on the roads leading the Himalayas from Rishikesh, a dazzling experience that surpasses that of Vietnam by miles. But as this is a post about Vietnam, I suggest heading for Pu Luong National Park, lower in altitude and less mountain clinging, but impressive all the same.

Stay in Tam Coc instead of Ninh Binh

Tam Coc by Tuan Mai on Flikr
Tam Coc by Tuan Mai on Flikr

Another popular place to visit in Northern Vietnam is Ninh Binh, known for it’s limestone karsts that lie amongst the rivers ad rice paddies nearby. Traditionally people stay in the closest town of Ninh Binh which certainly has a rustic charm to it if you take the time to cycle through the back streets. But if the real reason you’re here is to experience the natural wonders, stay in Tam Coc instead which boasts much more beautiful natural views and direct access to the network of caves and rivers you came here to explore. With no ATMs nearby we cycled to Ninh Binh one hot afternoon (you must know where to go to make this a gorgeous ride instead of a life threatening one down a motorway!) which we thoroughly enjoyed but without a doubt, the experience was far more magical because we woke up each morning surrounded by lush green jungles and bird songs.

Stay on the outskirts of Hoi An

The ancient town of Hoi An by Chris Hoare on Flikr
The ancient town of Hoi An by Chris Hoare on Flikr

This UNESCO World Heritage ancient town is stunning, but completely crowded most of the time. This should absolutely not deter you, although I usually despise tourist traps this place is an exception. It’s like a fairy tale it’s so beautiful! To get some respite from the madness though, I suggest staying on the outskirts of town half way between the old town and the beach. This of course makes it easier to get to the beach if you desire, but also gives you wonderful views of the surrounding rice terraces (if you pick the right hotel and room), and a lovely bike ride into town each day which takes you through some of the more authentic parts of town.

Hanoi

Hanoi by Adam Straney on Flikr
Hanoi by Adam Straney on Flikr

This will most likely be the start or finishing point of your journey, and is abundant in delicious food. If you want to create your own food tour here instead of doing an organised tour (which I highly recommend!), simply take some of my recommendations from this previous blog post and download a maps.me vietnam offline map to mark all the places you want to go. It’s an easy town to get around, if not a bit chaotic, just keep your wits about you and savour the wonderful tastes!

The Real Sydney in 3 Days

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My last travelling adventure in 2010 ended in Sydney, Australia and I ended up staying a lot longer than I’d planned. Like, a year longer. It’s a captivating city, one you fall in love with more the longer you stay. It has plenty of distinct neighbourhoods to wander around, beautiful beaches to suit every taste, classy bars, dirty drum and bass clubs and heavenly food. I was never bored here, I just always wished I had more money to burn. Returning here with Mickaël, I was determined to show him my Sydney and show him why I loved it here so much. So naturally, I planned the perfect itinerary each day to take us on a 6 day journey of food and frolicking.

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The 6 Best Places To Eat In Singapore

One of the main activities in Singapore is eating. I learned this on our first day when we arrived at our first Hawker Centre, completely bemused by the sheer amount of stalls serving up all kinds of dishes I wanted to try. A family sitting near by sensed my curiosity and asked us to sit down with them and try their breakfast. A sort of crispy pancake that you dip into sugar and coconut. Delicious. The old grandma in the corner started motioning with her walking stick for her daughter to go and buy us a plate, she willingly obliged and a lovely brunch ensued. We were quite taken aback by their hospitality, and ever so grateful for it. I’d like to pay it forward and tell you about the most wonderful eating experiences I had in Singapore so you may enjoy it as much as we did. Continue reading “The 6 Best Places To Eat In Singapore”

Getting off the Beaten Track in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand

Courtesy of Kirk Gillock
Courtesy of Kirk Gillock

When we arrived in Thailand last year we were faced with the same problem many tourists find themselves faced with when planning a trip to Thailand. We wanted a relaxing beach to go to that wasn’t too far away from Bangkok, that wasn’t too touristy (you can cross Pattaya off your list straight away) and not too expensive (that cancels out Koh Samet too!) Where could we go?

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What The Guidebooks Don’t Tell You About Travelling in Myanmar

Shwedagon Pagoda
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

Our trip to Myanmar in March was an interesting one. It was not a country I immediately fell in love with, nor do I love it wholly and completely like I do most other countries in south east Asia. The reasons for this will become clear throughout this article, but I wouldn’t want any of them to deter you from travelling there. Being prepared and planning your trip well will reward you with a unique experience that you’re sure to want to repeat, and learning from our mistakes and understanding the country a bit before you travel will certainly temper your expectations.

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My New Zealand Travel Guide in Pictures

Queenstown
Queenstown

New Zealand is one of my favourite countries because it has so much glorious and varied landscape to explore. I’ve been on holiday twice here, once in the winter (July) for two weeks and once in the summer (January) for two weeks. The winter was crisp and offered lovely views of the snowy peaks, the summer gave us the chance to laze by the lakes and catch some rays. It’s impossible to experience everything this country has to offer at once unless you go for 5-6 weeks with a big budget, it may be small but its packed full of wonders. Continue reading “My New Zealand Travel Guide in Pictures”

4 of the Best Countries to Visit this Winter

Tempted to go on holiday this winter? Me too. Whether you’re in the mood for a beach break or adventure, you’re in the right place. These are my hot picks that will tantalise your mind and inspire you to take the plunge and book a trip of a life time.

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A Complete Guide to Visiting the Salt Flats in Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni

Salar de Uyuni a.k.a the Salt Flats of Bolivia a.k.a the largest mirror in the world are a natural phenomenon that often features on people’s bucket lists. It’s located within a magical and vast terrain in south west Bolivia surrounded by equally impressive landscapes full of multicoloured lakes and mountains not unlike the surface of the moon in our imaginations. It’s not just about the salt flats here, not at all. The geysers, hot springs (don’t think about the cold, just dive in), clear starry skies at night and hotels made completely of salt all feature on this incredible journey full of beautiful postcard pictures you’ll remember for ever. Here’s my guide to making sure you get the most out of the experience, including pictures, what it’s like, how to get there, how to book a tour and when to visit.

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Why Colombia is the Ultimate Destination for the Authentic Travel Experience

Visiting the Botero sculptures in Medellin by Ivan Erre Jote on Flikr
Visiting the Botero sculptures in Medellin by Ivan Erre Jote on Flikr

We arrived in Bogota, Colombia to an overcast sky as the sun was setting. There was just enough light when we were landing to see the twinkling lights sprawling far wider than I expected. This was the first of many expectations that would be surpassed on our 5 month trip across South America, the intrepid land where backpackers go to find themselves or have an adventure in a place so completely different to what we know. It seemed in fact, that this capital city that I’d never heard of before booking the flights was just like any other. I was full of hope that it wouldn’t be a dangerous country full of drug barons and anarchists, waiting to make a quick buck by kidnapping the first affluent westerner they saw. That all changed when we stepped out of our hotel.

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