Category Archives: Travel

Holiday Destination

March is a great time to travel – in many places it’s the shoulder season between chilly winter and Easter, when prices are hiked up, and in warmer climes, temperatures and humidity are usually low enough to make sightseeing a pleasure and not an endurance course. Fancy a trip to an exotic locale? Whatever your bent as a holidaymaker, we’ve got a stellar recommendation for you here.

One for the beach bums
Sayulito, Mexico

Hit the beach in Mexico for some March sun – but we recommend you skip the well-known resort areas like Acapulco and Cancun and instead head for the Riviera Nayarit on the Pacific coast. You’ll be able to find an all-inclusive or luxury hotel here if you wish, but the real appeal is a 200-mile stretch of coastline where you’ll discover authentic beach towns backed by jungle-clad mountains.

Probably the most popular is the bohemian surfer’s mecca of Sayulito, less than an hour north of Puerto Vallarta. Stay in a simple bungalow by the beach and feast on tropical fruit and seafood at one of the many alfresco restaurants, and look out for artworks by the local Huichol Indians, who use peyote-inspired visions for inspiration.

One for the thrill seekers
Death Road, Bolivia

Avid mountain bikers: how about Death Road in Bolivia? This 64km (40 mile) downhill stretch hurtles intrepid cyclists down a twisting descent of 3,600m (11,800ft) in 4-5 hours, from the chilly highlands to the humid Amazonian jungle, via a narrow road that’s 8ft wide on average and has sheer drops of up to 1,000m (3,280ft) on one side.

Many people have died on this route – it isn’t called Death Road for nothing – but since a new road for vehicles has been built, cyclists don’t have to swerve out of the way of trucks and cars coming in the opposite direction anymore.

If that’s not enough adrenaline, the ride ends in the town of Yolosa, where a 1,500m (5000ft) long zip-line whizzes eager participants over forest and valley.

One for the city slickers
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Still widely known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh feels in places like time has stood still – even if the people haven’t. Shabby French colonial villas and incense-filled pagodas sit in between shiny shopping malls and skyscrapers, and the streets are frenetic with the noise of moped horns. March is the perfect time to visit, as it’s less humid than at any other time of the year.

History buffs can walk back through time at the Reunification Palace, the largely unchanged former presidential palace where the final days of the Vietnam War played out, and underneath the city the vast, snake-like tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the war can be visited on a tour. Back above ground, escape the midday heat at the Dam Sen Water Park, a huge outdoor pool complex with giant water slides and killer wave machines.

One for the avid skiers
Bansko, Bulgaria

A recent report from The Escape Travel Card found that a family ski holiday for four could cost nearly £3,500 more at a French resort than an Eastern European one. With such eye-watering figures being bandied around, we investigated where best to feel the powder and forget about the wallet.

Bansko resort in Bulgaria, set between the Rila and Pirin mountain ranges, peaks in March, plus more than a third of the slopes are designed for the beginner too; there’s also a lively après-ski scene.

The Rila Mountains are also home to the Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila, the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. Today listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the monastery dates back to the 10th century and is home to approximately 60 monks. It’s the ideal day trip – a place to get blessings before your next black run.

This is It World’s best beaches

Dust off your shades and dig out your sandals – we’ve rounded up the best beaches around the world, from quintessential paradise to bare-it-all glam.

Paradise beaches

Hawaii is known for some of the most famous beaches in the world, but if you fancy a secluded slice of paradise, hop on a 4×4 to Kaiolohia Beach on the island of Lanai. As you sunbathe, gaze at the eerie 1940s oil tanker wreckage peeking out from an azure coral reef.

More than azure waters and white sands, El Nido in the Palawan archipelago of the Philippines has coved beaches full of natural wonders such as ancient caves and limestone cliffs. You’ll be equally spoilt for choice if you head to Pemba, neighbouring Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean, which is abundant in unspoilt beaches and untamed forests. Limited in accommodation and transport, Pemba is a guaranteed beach adventure.

Built into a rocky hillside on the Ionian coast, Maratea in Italy’s Basilicata region is a serene alternative to the well-trotted Amalfi Coast. Zip along mountain roads to the nearby black sands of Macarro.

Resort beaches

Luxury and silky sands await you in the Maldives – a string of 26 coral atolls in the Indian Ocean that boast more than 100 stand-out beach resorts. Six Senses Laamu is situated on its own atoll where you can laze in a hammock in a villa stilted over crystal waters.

More affordable are the beach resorts in Turkey. Head to Antalya to experience a lively historic centre of Ottoman homes and narrow streets. Stay at one of the upmarket hotels along Konyaalti Beach where you can sunbathe by day and dine at seafront restaurants by night.

Mountains and towering sea cliffs etched into Tenerife’s terrain offer picturesque views from the volcanic sands below. One of the more popular Canary Islands, Tenerife has a dramatic black sand beach at Playa Jardin enlivened by beautiful flowers.

Beaches fit for adventure

Surf junkies should put the beaches of Jeffrey’s Bay along South Africa’s Eastern Cape on their travel wish list. Ride the waves with the pros at Super Tubes, Boneyards and Kitchen Windows – just a few of the areas’s popular and quirkily named surf beaches.

The waters of Indonesia boast a quarter of the world’s marine life, making this South Asian archipelago ideal for a diving holiday. Novices will feel at ease at Amed Beach in the north east where a coral reef lies five minutes’ swim from the black-sand shores. Here snappers, triggerfish and other species teem in waters that are a toasty 28°C (82°F). For an off-the-beaten path adventure, head for the beaches of Lengkuas Island where you can dive with hawksbill turtles.

With a staggering 12,000 beaches, choosing a beach spot inAustralia could be overwhelming, but some of the best silica can be found in Queensland. Surfers Paradise along the Gold Coast offers surfing, jet-ski rides and kayaking. Escape from the crowds at trendy Mooloolaba or book a dive trip on the Great Barrier Reef at top-notch sites such as Heron and Lady Elliot Islands.

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For a holiday of equal parts relaxation and adventure, explore Alvor’s beaches in the Algarve. Praia da Rocha beach is a popular spot for jet skiing and paragliding whilst Meia Praia is ideal for Atlantic Ocean surfing. Take a break at the exquisite Praia dos Três Irmãos, home to magnificent rock formations, glistening waters and soft sands.

Unexpected beach treasures

In Northern Ireland, on the North Antrim coast, a spectacular white arc stretches for 2.5km (1.5 miles) between two headlands at a spot that is virtually secluded year-round. Backed by ancient dunes and grasslands carpeted in rare plants, including orchids, it’s no wonder White Park Bay has been designed an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

An African safari first springs to mind when thinking of Namibia but desert meets the Atlantic in Swakopmund, a beach favoured by local beach bums where you can find a slew of hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and water sports.

If you’re looking for a change from salty seas and oceans, set your sights on the shores of Lake Michigan, one of five Great Lakes in America. Here you’ll find 5.6km (3.5 miles) of sand along the plush, golden “mountains” of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Swim in the lake’s blue waters or climb one of the giant dunes for fantastic views.

City beaches

White-sand beaches along the lapping Mediterranean, spectacular architecture, cuisine and nightlife; Barcelona may very well have it all. Easily reached by metro and just a short walk from Las Ramblas, Barceloneta Beach is great for watching surfers, sunbathing and dining al fresco.

Downtown buildings and oceanfront granite peaks scrape the sky in Brazil’s vibrant Rio de Janeiro that boasts 40km (25 miles) of dreamy sandscapes. Stroll along the surf with scantly-clad Cariocas on Copacabana or take in the sun with millionaires on Ipanema beach.

In Tel Aviv, you’ll find unbeatable Med beaches with a flavour of the Middle East. Skyscrapers line the 10km-long (6 miles) beachfront where Israelis laze by day until the evening sunsets. For perfect views of the skyline, spend a morning in the markets and art galleries of the historic Old Jaffa before descending for an afternoon on the sands.

This best pilgrimages for modern travellers

Searching for spirituality or moral sanctuary? We unearth 10 of the best pilgrimages to cleanse the modern soul.

In a world of gadgets and instant gratification, a pilgrimage seems like an archaic concept. Something lifted from the pages of a medieval text, perhaps. But as increasing numbers of us seek refuge from the demands of modern life and its electronic distractions, venturing into the wilderness in search of spirituality has never seemed more appealing.

So we’ve picked 10 pilgrimage routes from around the world worthy of the long walk. Some are rooted in some of the world’s major religions, while others are simply about taking on a challenge and enjoying an authentic cultural experience.

The Way of St James, France

The Way of St James (or Camino de Santiago) is arguably one of the most famous pilgrimage routes in Europe, with over 200,000 people undertaking the journey to Santiago de Compostela, the resting place of St James, every year.

The most popular route is the so-called ‘French Way’. Beginning in the southern French town of Saint-Jean-Pied-De-Port, pilgrims cross the Pyrenees through Lower Navarre, and proceed through northern Spain to the iconic cathedral.

The long stretch weaves its way between picturesque towns and vast cornfields. Accommodation takes the form of basic, family-run hostels dotted along the route. The journey takes around three weeks in total.

How far? 725km (450 miles)
Where? Southern France & northern Spain
When should I go? June/July

Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Regarded as the holiest place in Islam, it is a religious duty for all able-bodied Muslims to attempt the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) at least once in their lifetime. The holy mission culminates in a visit to the Masjid al-Haram mosque, the largest mosque in the world, or more specifically the Kaaba, a cuboid building in the centre of the mosque, which all Muslims must face when performing salat (prayers).

Unfortunately it is strictly prohibited for non-Muslims to enter the holy city of Mecca. However, Medina, the second holiest city in Islam and burial place of the prophet Muhammad, does allow non-Muslims to enter, though certain areas remain restricted.

How far? Variable
Where? Mecca, Saudi Arabia
When should I visit? September/October/November

Sanctuary of Atotonilco, Mexico  

Known colloquially as the Sistine Chapel of Mexico, this church and popular pilgrimage site is an intense mix of beauty and brutality. The chapel’s spectacular ceiling, which took artist Antonio Martínez de Pocasangre over 30 years to complete, depicts – in rather gruesome detail – images of Jesus Christ being beaten and tortured, and has consequently led to the chapel becoming a pilgrimage site for those who engage in religious penance.

For 33 weeks of the year, people make the long journey to engage in spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, which include mortification of the flesh through flagellation and fasting. Over 5,000 people visit the chapel each week.

How far? Variable
Where? Guanajuato, Mexico
When should I go? August-November

Glastonbury Tor to Stonehenge, UK

Pagan traditions envelop these two mystical sites in the heart of the English countryside. A journey to the summit of Glastonbury Tor, a hill on which stands the roofless Grade I-listed St Michaels Tower, is said to lead the pilgrim on a journey of rebirth, returning from the journey as a new person. While this transformation may not be a guarantee, the unimpaired view of the Somerset countryside has many pilgrims flocking to the summit each summer.

Within hiking distance from The Tor lies the remarkable Stonehenge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that’s thought to have been constructed as early as 2600 BC. The stone circle has long been the site of ceremonies for neopagans and druids. Time your journey right and you could join the 10,000-strong crowds who gather each June to celebrate the summer solstice.

How far? 68km (42 miles)
Where? Glastonbury, England
When should I go? June

Madonna del Ghisallo, Italy

A pilgrimage for those who prefer pedal power to power walking, the 17th-century Madonna del Ghisallo chapel in Lombardy is the mecca of the cycling world. Dedicated to Del Ghisallo, the patroness of cyclists, every inch of the chapel’s interior walls proudly display glass-framed jerseys from some of the best riders in the world. Along with an incredible collection of memorabilia, the chapel also burns an eternal flame for cyclists who have lost their lives competing in the sport.

The ride to the site from the nearby tourist town of Bellagio is suitably challenging, being around 10.6km in length and climbing 552 meters.

How far? 10.6km (6.5 miles)
Where? Lombardy, Italy
When should I go? May-September

Kumano Kodō, Japan

The Kumano Kodō is the name given to a series of ancient pilgrimage routes that criss-cross their way through the mountainous Japanese peninsula of Kii Hantó to the revered Kumano Sanzan temple complex, the birthplace of the Kumano cult.

The route through the mountains is breathtaking, both due to the rugged mountain landscape and the tiny traditional wooden villages that line the walkway. The most popular of the pilgrimage routes is from Tajijiri-oji, the gateway to the sacred area of Kumano, with an optional overnight stay in a traditional minshuku(budget version of a ryokan) at the tiny village of Chikatsuyu-oji. After completing the long trek to the sacred site, travellers can relax in the only UNESCO World Heritage hot spring open to the public in Yunomine – for the reasonable price of ¥750 (£5.50), the bath is yours for 30 minutes.

How far? 40km (25 miles)
Where? Japan
When should I go? September-November

The Lagoons of Huaringas, Peru

The 14 ponds and lakes of the Huaringas in Peru are a popular pilgrimage for those searching spiritual healing from the sacred Shaman or Witch Doctors that reside in the area. These ‘teachers’ perform ceremonies to those who are facing ills, often using Ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic drink, which it’s claimed cures everything from depression to the common cold.

Pilgrims who have made the journey to visit the Shaman are inducted into special ceremonies. First, the weary traveller visits the lakes to bathe in icy waters which are said to absorb diseases and restore positive energy. This is followed by a more intimate ceremony that takes place at midnight in the home of the ‘teacher’. In a half conscious state the Shaman uses his invisible power of healing to cure all participants of their woes. Booking through tour operators is advised.

How far? Variable
Where? Huaringas, Peru
When should I go? June-October

Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka

Cast into a rock atop this verdant peak is said to be the sacred footprint of Buddha. Competing claims are made by other faiths; Muslims say the impression is the first footstep of Adam (of Eve fame), Hindus believe it was made by Shiva.

Whoever it belongs to, this stunning summit in central Sri Lanka attracts thousands of pilgrims every year. Most climb in the cool of night, taking breaks from the steep ascent at one of the many tea shops en route. Time it right and visitors can watch a stunning sunrise over Sri Lanka before checking out the mystery footprint.

How far? 7km (4.3 miles)
Where? Sri Lanka
When should I go? January-May

Mount Kailash, Tibet

Every year thousands of people from numerous faiths make the pilgrimage to the remote Mount Kailash, believing that circumnavigating the mountain on foot will bring good fortune. Some claim the 52km trek must be made in a single day, while diehard believers crawl the entire route – a feat that takes roughly four weeks.

Officially, walking around the holy mountain has to be done on foot, pony or yak, which takes most travellers three days. Nobody has ever reached the summit of the holy Mountain, and while the path circling Kailash is widely used, it is strictly forbidden to attempt the climb.

How far? 52km (32.3 miles)

Char Dham, India

Char Dham is the ultimate pilgrimage for those looking to embark on a journey of cultural discovery. The Char Dahm, widely revered by Hindus, is a pilgrimage route that leads people to the four sacred sites of India; Badrinath in the north, Rameswaram in the south, Dwarka in the west, and Puri in the east. It is considered highly sacred to visit Char Dham (all four sites) in a Hindu’s lifetime.

The journey of 6,276km is a test both physically and mentally, and unlike many of the pilgrimages on the list, it requires travel by foot, motor vehicle and train. Many travellers struggle when selecting a route around this geographic goliath of a nation, but the perfectly square Char Dham itinerary provides a comprehensive, all-encompassing route, which will see you leave the crowds of Goa, Delhi and Mumbai in your wake.

Here Best Stargazing Sites in the World

Our ancestors used to look at the stars every night, making a deep connection with nature that’s now lost to a generation of city-dwellers. Happily, though, there are still plenty of places where you can see nature’s most dazzling show, and not all of them are remote. Here are ten of the best.

1) Mauna Kea, Hawaii

A visit to Hawaii already offers sun, sand and surf; travel to Big Island and you can revel in what many people consider to be the best stargazing on the planet. You may be at risk of altitude sickness (the top of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano, is 13,796ft above sea level) but the view is breathtaking in other ways too: a lack of light pollution ensures unparalleled visibility.

2) Atacama Desert, Chile

As one of the driest places in the world, Atacama Desert has few clouds, along with a high altitude and zero light pollution. What better way to experience it than by camping? Elqui Domos, in the Elqui Valley, is the only “astronomic hotel” in the Southern Hemisphere and offers domed tents with open ceilings and wooden cabins with decks.

3) Yangtze River Valley, China

You may not expect heavily polluted China to offer a top stargazing site, but the Yangtze River Valley swaps the lush scenery of Asia’s longest river by day with gorgeous glittering night skies. The Chinese have a long history of stargazing, too, dating back to 4 BC – one of the first observatories was built in Beijing during the Ming Dynasty.

4) Kruger National Park, South Africa

South Africa’s largest game reserve, where you can spot the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino) is also great for stars, due to its flat grassy plains with very few trees. The park abounds with luxury lodges, so for a once-in-a lifetime experience, sit back with a gin and tonic and watch the fiery red and orange sunset quickly make way for an ink black sky studded with bright stars.

5) Kiruna, Sweden

Its location 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle makes Kiruna a prime spot to see the aurora borealis, or northern lights – although unfortunately these streaks of magical colour are never guaranteed. Other places you may get to see them include Trysil in Norway and Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska.

6) Los Angeles, California, USA

Not an obvious choice, we know, but Griffith Observatory on the top of Mount Hollywood has powerful telescopes, all the better for checking out the moon and stars on a clear night. By day, you can see the Hollywood sign, the Pacific Ocean and downtown LA, too. Famous for appearing in key scenes in Rebel Without A Cause in 1955, the observatory also recently featured in the top Oscars contender La La Land.

7) Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Exchange the neon stars of Las Vegas for Death Valley, only two hours’ drive away on the border of California and Nevada. As approximately 91% of the park is wilderness, there’s very little artificial light or pollution. The expansive vistas will open up a multitude of stars, but beware – visit in summer and temperatures could regularly top 100°F (38°C).

8) Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania, USA

Cherry Springs is located atop a great mountain range, its nearby communities set down in the valleys, ensuring minimal light pollution. It’s an amazing place to see the nucleus of the Milky Way, and it’s pretty straightforward to do so too: the Night Sky Viewing Area has public parking, information kiosks and benches. More serious enthusiasts can stay overnight in the Astronomy Observation Field and enjoy 360° views of the sky.

9) Crater Lake, Oregon, USA

Oregon’s only National Park, the remote Crater Lake is at 7,000ft elevation and its relatively isolated location ensures clear skies – and the sunsets and sunrises over the Crater, the USA’s deepest lake, are pretty incredible too. Stay at the Crater Lake Lodge in the heart of the action; there’s also a campsite.

10) Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, UK

England’s northernmost county is also one of its wildest, and Northumberland International Dark Sky Park is Europe’s largest protected area of night sky. Kielder Observatory is open to the public during events, but there are many spots throughout the area – some are remote, and others located near restaurants so you can make a fun evening out of it.

Japan’s forgotten paradise at Okinawa

From whale sharks to coral reefs, Japan’s Okinawa prefecture is full of surprises. Joe Minihane discovers a new side to the country.

It appears out of the blue, swimming majestically beneath me as I duck my head into the South China Sea. A whale shark, the largest fish in the world. Escorted by a trail of smaller fish, it glides through the water, opening its colossal mouth to feasts on the offerings of awestruck scuba divers.

Snorkelling in tropical waters is not something you’d usually associate with Japan, but then Okinawa doesn’t feel very Japanese. Floating some 1,000km (621 miles) south of Tokyo, this archipelago of paradise islands wears its Pan Asian influences proudly.

Formerly the Ryukyu Kingdom, this prefecture was independent until it became part of Japan in 1879. Its people traded far and wide across the continent, and its food, architecture and culture are all imbued with aspects of China, Korea and South East Asia. Consequently, it’s unlike anywhere else in Japan, which had been cut off from the outside world until the 19th century.

Paradoxically, it’s Okinawa that finds itself cut off nowadays; the archipelago has been largely forgotten by international tourists, omitted from most travellers’ itineraries. But, as I swim with this seagoing giant, I realise this lost paradise offers a travel experience you won’t match on the mainland. Okinawa has wonders the likes of Tokyo, Kyoto and Hokkaido can’t match.

A taste of Okinawa

Dried off after my aquatic adventure, my guide Yoyoi and I head to Naha, Okinawa’s capital and home to some of the best restaurants for nuchi gusui, meaning literally ‘medicine food’.

Okinawans are proud of their cuisine, especially as it’s believed to contribute to the long life expectancy of its residents – women here live to an average of 87.02 years, topped only by Nagano in central Japan.

Feeling ravenous, Yoyoi and I slide open the door to Fumiya (3-17-9 Maesima). We kick off our shoes and pad across tatami mats to a low slung table. Yoyoi natters with the proprietor, an elderly lady – or Obaa as they’re respectfully known in these parts – who scurries off to the kitchen and returns holding two trays laden with local delicacies.

There’s chanpuru – a mixture of pork, eggs and tofu – and goya, a bitter melon, which is a mainstay of Okinawan cuisine. There are bowls of peanut tofu and seaweed; of miso bulked with dried tuna and purple sweet potatoes; and pork steeped in soy.

As we eat, Yoyoi explains why Okinawa cuisine is so distinct. ‘Local ingredients are very important to us, as are the flavours of other countries we used to trade with,’ she says. ‘After the war, there was a scarcity of food, so we relied on the fresh vegetables we could grow and the pork that could be farmed. People had no choice but to eat the best food they could find locally, hence it’s so healthy.’

Pan Asian influence

That evening Yoyoi and I head to Kalahaai (8-11 Mihama), a bar-cum-concert venue on the beach in Mihama. We squeeze in more local delights – including slow–cooked pig’s ears, sea grapes and pickled shallots – grazing as we watch a local band called Tink Tink perform traditional Okinawan songs.

It doesn’t feel especially Japanese. The sound of the stringed sanshin is certainly reminiscent of the Japanese shamisen, but the riot of colour on the women’s kimonos, the informal dancing and the lively, upbeat songs are influences from China and South East Asia.

As the women dance, the audience whoops and hollers. We show our appreciation, too, before heading out into the steamy night to stroll through one of Okinawa’s most incongruous sights; the American village.

With its Ferris wheel and boardwalk, the area feels more Santa Monica than southern Japan. Uncle Sam’s influence is a legacy of WWII, when the Americans occupied Okinawa – they only handed it back in 1972, but US military bases remain on the island.

I watch, bewilderedly, as a fire-eater entertains crowds of GIs, who munch on burgers and tap their feet to country music. It’s a sight I can’t really get my head round as I head back to my hotel. This couldn’t be less like the Japan of popular imagination if it tried.

Snorkellers paddle towards one of Okinawa’s ubiquitous beaches
Ippei Naoi / Thinkstock

Beach beautiful

The following morning I plan a trip to the majestic coral reefs at nearby Zamami. But my visit is scuppered by an incoming typhoon, which has whipped up the waves and suspended ferry services.

So I head north, away from the storm, to Zampa beach on Okinawa’s main island. The archipelago has plenty of sandy shores to choose from, but this is one of the best. I watch as fish dart back and forth in the turquoise waters, as kids splash among the light rollers lapping onto the beach.

Further north, Emerald Beach and Moon Beach are calling out, but my time on Okinawa is almost up. So I head to Yu–yu–ra–san, a little wooden restaurant nestled in the island’s interior, which uses local pork on its American themed menu.

Munching on a huge Aguu pork burger, I marvel at Okinawa’s ability to surprise. The local motto, nankuru nuisaa (‘don’t worry, be happy’), couldn’t be further from the live fast ethos of mainland Japan. But that’s part of this forgotten archipelago’s charm. Okinawa’s appeal lies in its differences, and its status as a cultural and culinary magpie.

NEED TO KNOW

Getting there
There are no direct flights to Okinawa from the UK. The best way to get there is via Hong Kong or Tokyo and catch a connecting flight, which takes two and half hours from both destinations. All Nipon Airways (www.ana.co.uk) and Japan Airlines (www.jal.co.jp) both fly to Okinawa.

When to go
Okinawa is hot all year round, with temperatures regularly breaking 30ºC during summer. This is the best time to come if you want to spend time on the beach, although be aware that August’s typhoon season can cause major travel disruption.

What to do
• Go snorkelling or scuba diving with Top Marine (www.topmarine.jpn.com). Found at a number of coastal locations, this excellent company offers trips to see whale sharks or access to hidden, underwater caves.

• Okinawa’s beaches are legendary. Take a boat to the Kerama Islands from Naha City for a slice of tropical paradise. If time is tight, stay on the main island and head north to Emerald Beach.

• Okinawa is blessed with excellent cultural attractions. Shurijo Castle, a UNESCO gives a great insight into the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom, while the superb Peace Memorial Park, overlooking the Pacific, offers a stark reminder of the brutal battle which raged here towards the end of World War II.

Review of Places In Mahamaya, Gili Meno, Bali

Stylish eco-hotel Mahamaya is one of the newest properties on the relaxed, relatively unspoiled Indonesian island of Gilo Meno, a 90-minute boat ride from bustling Bali. Anna Smith checks in.

First impressions

Mahamaya may be an affordable eco resort, but arriving there by speedboat we feel like a million dollars. Staff line up on the pure white coral beach to meet us and carry our luggage while we marvel at the sight of this glistening white modern hotel with its silver sign reading, in Indonesian, ‘Ultimate Paradise’.

Maya is also the name of the owner’s niece: this boutique hotel was set up by Brit entrepreneur David, whose sister Ali married a talented Indonesian chef who heads up the kitchen. This family affair launched just a couple of years ago and has quickly become a favourite with honeymooners. Check-in is smiley and efficient, containing an important briefing on conserving the water and electricity in this very environmentally conscious hotel.

Ideal for…

Couples on a romantic break looking to get away from it all. Those with young children are also well served.

The room

Rooms are either spacious pool suites just off from the beach, or two beachfront villas either side of the main building. Décor is relaxed and modern with original art adorning the walls. The pleasant bathrooms feature an outdoor shower and a fresh drinking water dispenser with a small minibar fridge.

Best room?

Candy Villa is a favourite with many returning guests. Set next to the restaurant, the self-contained villa overlooks the stunning beach yet enjoys it own sandy terrace with a table and chairs as well as two boat-shaped sun loungers and umbrella. Only the occasional horse and cart, jewellery seller or other guest is likely to wander past. Attentive but unobtrusive staff regularly smooth down the sand.

Eating and drinking

Breakfast is a classy but casual affair in the beachside restaurant, with doors flung open onto the beach. Staff quickly serve up coffee, tea and freshly squeezed juices from the funky bar – our orange juice arrived in a Martini glass clinking with ice (made from fresh water, so no need to worry about tummy upsets). A buffet bar offers cornflakes, muesli and a selection of tasty local treats that vary from day to day – we enjoyed the pink coconut and brown sugar pancakes. Order from a good selection for your cooked dish, including cinnamon French toast, Eggs Benedict and the local dish,nasi goreng (fried rice dish).

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Dinner is when Mahamaya comes alive. Couples sit overlooking the sea at a discreet distance from each other, while round wicker lamps hang harmoniously from trees. Post happy hour (two-for-one cocktails), the scene is perfectly set for romance, with many a successful proposal taking place here. Heart-shaped petals lead the happy couple to a table squared off with yet more petals – staff ask for permission to enter the hallowed ground while serving up sparkling wine and a delicious three-course meal including spring rolls, beef rendang and home-baked cake with ice cream. No creaky violins here: we were treated to a fire poi performane featuring fiery twirling circus balls.

Extras

Snorkelling equipment of varying qualities is available to borrow freely by the pool, as are kayaks, weather depending. Other excursions can be arranged with reception. Plans are afoot for a small spa as well as additional rooms, which will take the room total to 18. There’s a small boutique selling jewellery and general supplies.

Room for improvement

You’ll need to bring your own toiletries as the bathroom isn’t fully stocked. And due to the remote location, the internet is sporadic. But who wants to look online when the outdoor views are this magical anyway?

Out and about

You can wander around the island of Gili Meno in an hour or so, enjoying the sight of locals painting their boats, feeding their chickens or ushering you into their beachfront bars for a cool Bintang beer. Take a left down the path from Mahamaya and you’ll find a warm welcome at the relaxed, ramshackle reggae bar Sasak. Take a boat over to nearby Gili Trawangan for more lively nightlife.

Wild Nature Travel

Spotting some of the world’s most charismatic animals on a traditional African safari is surely one of travel’s greatest pleasures. But there’s so much more to wildlife and nature tourism than seeing a lion, elephant or leopard from your seat in a convoy of four-wheel drives.

From tracking down tigers to watching wrestling dinosaurs (okay, not quite – but close), here are a handful of alternative ways for travellers to admire the unparalleled spectacle of the natural world.

Looking for tigers in northern India

Tiger numbers have crept up in recent years according to official statistics from the Indian government: in 2016, India was estimated to be home to 2500 of them – 70 percent of the global population. But in a country this vast, it’s still hard to see one.

With accredited naturalists working as guides, Himalayan Footsteps (himalayanfootsteps.com) offers a 13-day trip taking in the Bandhavgarh and Kanha national parks. Sightings are by no means guaranteed, although it’s said the best time of year to see tigers is between February and April, so it’s smart to plan ahead. If you don’t spot one, you’ll stand a better chance of seeing sloth bears, jackals and grey mongoose. Bandhavgarh is also home to 250 species of birds, so make sure you pack your binoculars.

Birdwatching in Peru’s Islas Ballestas

Don’t listen to anyone who dismisses Peru’s Islas Ballestas as ‘the poor man’s Galapagos’; these uninhabited islands might not have inspired Darwin when HMS Beagle passed this way in the 1830s, but they are home to a huge seabird colony, as well as sea lions and fur seals.

Due to the fragile nature of the islands, visitors can’t make landfall, but boats can be chartered along with dedicated guides from nearby Paracas. Peruvian pelicans and Humboldt penguins vie for real estate on these rocky outcrops, sea lions howl above the din of crashing waves, while blue-footed boobies, related to the gannet, dive-bomb the surrounding waters in a desperate search for fish.

Komodo dragons and orangutans in Indonesia

Indonesia is home to many natural wonders, but few spectacles compare with the sight of two Komodo dragons locked in claw-to-claw combat.

A visit to the eponymous island home of the world’s largest lizard – the next best thing to a dinosaur, basically – is a highlight of Responsible Travel’s 13-day trip (responsibletravel.com) through the archipelago. Another major stop on the itinerary is Borneo, one of the last redoubts of the beautiful, endangered orangutan, who share their home with proboscis monkeys, gibbons and macaques, to name but three of the rare creatures sheltering in the rainforest.

Northern lights ‘safari’ in Nellim, Finland

Three hundred kilometres north of the Arctic Circle and just 9km fromFinland’s border with Russia, Nellim is one of the best places in Scandinavia to see the aurora borealis, otherwise known as the northern lights.

The light pollution is negligible, but due to temperamental weather staying in a single spot slashes your chances of seeing the sky lit up. The Aurora Zone runs ‘safaris’ in conjunction with the Nellim Wilderness Lodge (theaurorazone.com), chasing the lights after dark. Wrap up warm and be patient: you can drive as much as 250km in a single night if it’s cloudy. Daytime brings the chance to see herds of reindeer roaming the boreal forest from dirt tracks that surround the village. Lucky visitors may even catch a glimpse of brown bears or wolves.

Orca watching in Orkney, UK

Ninety percent of orca sightings in the UK occur off of the coast of the Shetland Isles and Orkney. The latter’s wild shores and turbulent waters are the best place to see these beautiful creatures.

While most pods of orca are small, it’s been known for a group of 150 to appear east of the main island. You don’t need your sea legs to see them either, with the high clifftops on the island of Hoy affording superb views during the summer months. Cannock Head and the Old Man of Hoy are both recommended by local whale watchers. If you’re lucky, you might also see pilot whales, minke whales and bottlenose dolphins. Keen twitchers should also keep an ear out for corncrakes, a rarely seen bird with a distinctive call that’s native to these Scottish islands.

Horseback safari in Laikipia, Kenya

The Laikipia Plateau, which sits across the equator, is one of the ultimate places to see the traditional ‘Big Five’ (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino) in Kenya.

Unlike popular parks across eastern and southern Africa, however, trips here cross private land, meaning tourist numbers are low and the chance to see Africa’s big beasts away from the crowds is much higher. The best way to do so is on horseback. Offbeat Safaris (offbeatsafaris.com) offers an epic 10-day ride crossing the savannah and climbing the Loldaiga Hills, with fully accredited guides who know the area intimately. A long way from bumper-to-bumper drives, this is African safari at is wildest and most wonderful.

Searching for sloths in Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park

Despite taking up just 0.03 percent of the Earth’s surface, Costa Rica is home to six percent of the planet’s biodiversity. Inevitably, that makes this tiny Central American country a magnet for wildlife lovers. The elusive jaguars which roam its cloud forests are hard to spot. But slow-moving sloths are easier to find, especially in Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific coast, where you’ll also find a large number of capuchin monkeys.

Finding a good guide is a must, especially if you want to understand the creatures’ habitat. Travel Excellence (travelexcellence.com) employs first-rate guides with knowledge of the area’s wildlife and terrain that’s second to none. They’re keen birdwatchers, too, so if you’re lucky they’ll help you catch a glimpse of toucans and perhaps even the beautiful bright green quetzal.

Now Exploring Norway’s north

The Nordlandsbanen rail route is a storybook of varied landscapes. Skirting alongside the rugged islets of Norway’s jagged coastline, and gliding inland between undulating hills overlain with rich green pines, the dramatic scenery is punctuated only by the irresistible opportunities to hop off and explore. A journey on the Nordlandsbanen will allow you to experience fascinating tales of the past, to be stirred by the power of nature, and to taste the fresh flavours of the region.

The journey

Though perhaps less well-known than the Oslo-Bergen train ride, the Nordlandsbanen, which stretches northwards for 729km between regal Trondheim and spirited Bodø, could certainly lay claim to being the more unique route. As well as being Norway’s longest train line, it also crosses the Arctic Circle, the only railway in the world to do so.

An efficient service and spacious, comfortable trains make it a delightfully sedate way to make the ten-hour journey, but it’s the huge diversity of scenery that’s most appealing. Gently rolling, emerald-green fields rest under huge skies, and Norwegian flags whip proudly over the pillar-box red hytter (cabins) dotted haphazardly over the hillsides. Moments later, the train will track its way through dense woodland, a wall of pine trees on either side of the train breaking just long enough to snatch a two-second-long postcard of mist haunting the treetops in a shadowy forest beyond.

Then, coasting out of a tunnel, the ground will fall away to one side, and suddenly a 100m-high waterfall appears. Plummeting into a churning white froth below, the roaring deluge plays out silently on the other side of the train window. Such spellbinding scenes speed past repeatedly, and then evaporate into the distance, only to be replaced by another a few moments later.

Highlights of the Nordlandsbanen

All aboard at Trondheim

Before you board the train in Trondheim, take some time to explore the picture-postcard pretty city itself. The compact centre is relatively flat and easy to explore on foot or by bike. Marvel at the mighty Nidaros Domkirke, an ornate Gothic cathedral built on the burial ground of the much-revered Viking King Olav II, then linger as you cross over the quaint Old Town Bridge for views of the 18th-century waterside warehouses.

Trondheim’s old-world charm continues at Baklandet Skydsstasjon. Owner Gurli serves up hearty, homemade fare such as super-fresh fish soup and silky-smooth blueberry cheesecake. Wash it down with that most Nordic of spirits, the potent, herby aquavit: there are 111 varieties to choose from here. Meanwhile, across town, sleek Mathall Trondheim (mathalltrondheim.no) – part store, part bar-restaurant – offers a more modern take on classic Norwegian cuisine, serving up a variety of smørbrød and a good selection of craft beer.

Verdal for Stiklestad and The Golden Road of Inderøy

After a little less than two hours’ on the train from Trondheim, alight at Verdal for Stiklestad, the location of the famous battle of 1030 that saw the demise of King (later Saint) Olav. It’s now home to the Stiklestad National Cultural Centre, which hosts a variety of events throughout the year, and the 11th-century Stiklestad Church. This ancient place of worship was reputedly built over the stone on which Olav is said to have died.

Verdal (or alternatively Steinkjer, the next stop along), also makes a good jumping off point to explore The Golden Road – a route through traditionally agricultural Inderøy – which brings together a collective of sustainable culinary, cultural and artistic attractions, such as farm shops, restaurants and art workshops.

Swing by Nils Aas Kunstverksted (nils-aas-kunstverksted.no), a workshop and gallery dedicated to one of Norway’s most celebrated artists. Aas’ famous statue of King Haakon VII stands near the Royal Palace in Oslo, but a small collection of his pieces are also on display in a small sculpture garden just a few minutes’ stroll from the workshop.

The highlight of the road, though, is the aquavit tasting experience at Berg Gård (berg-gaard.no), a working farm with its own distillery. Book ahead to get rosy-cheeked while tasting this fiery spirit, flavoured with herbs and spices such as caraway, cardamom and anise, as the owner explains the artistry and innovation involved in creating it.

Must-see Mosjøen

A further three-hour train-glide north brings you to diminutive Mosjøen, nestled in the imposing Vefsnfjord and surrounded by wooded peaks. The oldest part of the town, Sjøgata, is almost an open-air museum in its own right: saved from demolition in the 1960s, the beautifully-preserved 19th-century wooden buildings tell the tale of a historically prosperous town, of hardy fishermen and thriving sawmills, a story echoed at the small but informative Jakobsensbrygga Warehouse museum.

Nowadays in Mosjøen the main industry is aluminium, and a factory hums somewhat incongruously amid its pristine surroundings. Nevertheless, the surrounding hills of the Helgeland region beckon visitors to explore. Hike up the 818m-high Øyfjellet for spectacular views of the town and beyond.

The town makes for a scenic spot to overnight and break up the journey to Bodø. With its cosy nooks and unique, one-room museum, Fru Haugans Hotel, northern Norway’s oldest inn, has occupied a peaceful spot on the Vefsna river since 1794.

Blink and you’ll miss it: crossing the Arctic Circle

From Mosjøen the landscape seems to change in preparation for the Arctic Circle crossing, as lush trees give way to the rolling rocky terrain and barren peaks of the Saltfjellet mountain range.

With no defining geographical features to signal your passage across The Circle and into the chilly wilds of Arctic north, you may have to use your imagination. But keep an eye out for the two large pyramidal cairns either side of the tracks, and Polarsirkelsenteret, a visitor centre visible some distance from the train line, to indicate that You Were Here.

Last stop Bodø for street art, sky-gazing and the Saltstraumen

The final stop on the line, Bodø is a proud and lively cultural hub, with the world-class concert venue, Stormen (stormen.no), and an impressive clutch of murals painted all over the city by international street-artists. One particular gem is After School by Rustam Qbic, a heart-warming homage to the aurora borealis that ensures the Northern Lights are always on show in Bodø.

If you’re not content with an artist’s impression, cross your fingers and hope to catch sight of the elusive aurora with your own eyes. The most vibrant sightings usually happen away from the light pollution of urban centres, but gaze skywards with a cocktail in hand on the balcony of Scandic Havet’s Sky Bar (scandichotels.com), and you might just be in luck.

End your journey on a high-octane note, by witnessing the fearsome force of the Saltstraumen, one of the world’s strongest tidal currents. Swirling into a frenzy every six hours, this furious maelstrom 33km from Bodø is caused by 400 million cubic metres of water rushing through a strait just 150m wide.

The Saltstraumen Bridge overlooks the strait, but a more exhilarating way to experience the power of the current is on a RIB boat excursion. Stella Polaris (stella-polaris.no) can zip you across the icy waters to the Saltstraumen at high speed, slowing down every now and then to catch a glimpse of local wildlife such as sea eagles and whales.

This On the trail of Munch in Oslo

With swirling Nordic light, dark and mysterious fjords and soul-stirring views, Oslo is ready-made for an expressionist Munch painting. In the Norwegian capital, Norway’s most revered artist lived, loved, painted and did constant battle with his inner demons. Strike out on this Munch-focused tour, which takes you from his first scream to his final studio.

Ready to scream

Climb up to the lookout at Ekeberg Hill (ekebergparken.com), just southeast of central Oslo, and the whole city spreads picturesquely before you: from the architecturally innovative Opera House to the inky fjord and islands beyond. On a sombre winter day, a shiver seems to run down Oslo’s spine, draining the scene of colour. In midsummer, the light makes the city shine in all its short-lived glory. At any time of year, Oslo is a true Nordic beauty, swinging effortlessly from the urban to the outdoors. This is plain to see up here, where locals admire broad views as they hike along trails twisting through pine, fir and ash forest, occasionally stopping to ponder Dalí and Rodin nudes or James Turrell’s colour-changing Skyspace in the sculpture park.

Join the walkers and you too will be captivated by the vista from this bluff, which has prompted many an artist to pick up a paintbrush – none more so than Munch. The Munch Spot (ekebergparken.com/en/pakke/22) marks the lookout that inspired The Scream. Recalling a walk here with two friends in 1892, the artist summed up the moment thus: ‘The sun was setting. Suddenly the sky turned blood-red. I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence. There was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city. My friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.’

The skyline has changed somewhat since then, but you can still experience a ‘Munch moment’ at the viewpoint that fuelled the artist’s most famous work. Step inside the larger-than-life frame, created by performance artist Marina Abramović, and you can, in the spirit of Munch, scream to your heart’s content.

Munch on canvas

The Scream (1893) might have its origins up on Ekeberg, but the real deal – one of four originals: two pastels, two paintings – now hangs in the astounding Nasjonalgalleriet. Take tram 19 back into central Oslo, hopping off at Kontraskjæret. From here it’s a 10-minute amble north to the gallery. In the Munch room, The Scream grabs all the attention. Capturing the existentialist angst of the age, this acid trip of a painting mesmerises all who behold it. In the background, a hallucinatory, fiery sky shifts above the hills and fjord, in the foreground stands a haggard, ghostly figure, its mouth agape in a silent scream and hands held up to its face in fright. Evoking the anxiety and solitude of the world on canvas, the painting is a once-seen-never-forgotten icon of expressionist art – one that mines the depths of Munch’s troubled soul.

Born in 1863, Edvard Munch had a disturbed childhood in Oslo, then Kristiania, which was plagued by illness, insanity, poverty and death. He lost his mother and beloved sister, Sophie, to tuberculosis at an early age, events which profoundly affected his preoccupation with life and death. Though a doctor, his deeply religious, near-fanatical father struggled to keep the family above the breadline and remained emotionally detached towards his son. And so the seeds of anxiety and isolation were sown. ‘My sufferings are part of my self and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art,’ said Munch.

An ode to the artist’s seminal works, the Munch Room at the Nasjonalgalleriet also showcases paintings such as Madonna (1894) and the mortality-obsessed Frieze of Life series.

Trams depart frequently from nearby Stortinget to make the 15-minute trundle east to another unmissable gallery, brimming with Munch’s art: the Munchmuseet. Munch gifted many works to the museum’s permanent collection, the world’s largest collection of his paintings, sketches and drawings. Plans for an ultra-modern new museum on the Bjørvika waterfront are in the pipeline for 2020 but, for now, the excellent rotating exhibitions speak for themselves. At any one time you might glimpse such emotive works as the snowy Starry Night (1922-24) and Vampire (1893–95), otherwise known as Love and Pain, which depicts a red-headed, Medusa-like woman consuming her lover. The Sick Child (1925) alludes to Munch’s memory of his sister’s premature death aged 15. A similar sense of doom is tangible in works like The Dance of Life (1925) and Self-portrait Between the Clock and the Bed (1940-43), which Munch painted shortly before his death.

Karl Johans Gate

Munch’s work is not merely confined to gallery walls, however. Head back into central Oslo and you can get a sense of the man and his work with a stroll along Karl Johans Gate, the city’s stately, mid-19th-century thoroughfare, linking Oslo Central Station to the Royal Palace. This was one of Munch’s haunts when he did venture into society, and he immortalised it in Evening on Karl Johan Street (1892), which shows spectral, hat-wearing figures parading along it in a death-march-like trance. Munch cut his teeth as a young artist on this street, renting his first studio and staging his first exhibitions here.

In the Grand Hotel at No. 31 you’ll find the Grand Café, which opened its doors in 1874 and swiftly became a much-loved hangout of artists and bohemians in the late 1800s. Word has it that Munch once offered the painting Sick Girl in exchange for 100 steak dinners here. The cafe was a second home to Norwegian poet and playwright Henrik Ibsen, who came here every day for lunch –  a sandwich, beer and schnapps – and met Munch’s acquaintance. The artist captured the moment in his painting of the writer at his regular window table in Henrik Ibsen at the Grand Café (1898).

A few paces away at No. 47 is the University of Oslo’s ceremonial hall, the Aula (www.uio.no/english/about/culture/aula), home to a series of Munch’s expressionistic murals. Heavy drinking, public brawling and tormented love affairs pushed Munch over the edge in 1908; he suffered partial paralysis and started hearing hallucinatory voices. Following a stint in a sanatorium, he returned feeling more hopeful. His newfound optimism is reflected in the murals, which he created from 1909 to 1916, the centrepiece being a giant sunburst. Try to snag tickets for one of the public concerts held here to view the works.

Munch’s Oslo homes

From nearby Stortorvet, it’s a short tram ride north to Olaf Ryes plass and the neighbourhood of Grünerløkka. Right on the Akerselva (Aker River), this is the neighbourhood where Munch spent most of his childhood. The one-time factory district is now a pocket of contemporary cool, brimming with trendy bars, boutiques, second-hand shops and microbreweries, many of which are housed in revamped 19th-century buildings. While Munch’s former apartments are off limits, you can still take an interesting wander around the streets he once frequented. Stepping across the river and heading up the hill brings you to Vår Frelsers Gravlund, the graveyard where Munch lies buried alongside other notables including feted writers Ibsen and Bjørnson.

Out on its lonesome on the city’s western fringes is the Ekely estate (munchs-ekely.no/english), which you can reach from central Oslo by taking tram 13, and alighting at Abbediengen. Munch spent the last 28 years of his life here. Though wealthy and revered by this time, his one true companion remained his prolific paintbrush, which he used to convey his constant inspiration from the natural surrounds. He painted in every mood and moment: in autumn and spring, by moonlight and snowfall. He painted self-portraits and animal portraits, nudes and scenes of elegant ladies swanning around the gardens. In total, some 1008 paintings and 4443 drawings were discovered here after his death in 1944. On Saturdays from July to September, a Munchmuseet combination ticket allows visitors to explore his former studio, but in winter the place falls silent. And that seems fitting in the location where the angst-ridden creator of The Scream finally found lasting peace.

Info South Korea Travel Guide

South Korea can come across as inscrutable at first glance. It’s a land of stark contrasts and wild contradictions; a place where tradition and technology are equally embraced; where skyscrapers loom over ancient temples; and where the frantic pace of life is offset by the serenity of nature. The country’s unique customs and etiquette can seem like a trap laid for foreigners, but arrive with a smile and a respectful attitude and you will be welcomed with open arms by some of the friendliest folk on the planet.

Koreans are fiercely proud of their country, and with good reason. The Korean peninsula has a storied history and this colourful heritage is woven into the fabric of this land. The capital, Seoul, is home to a number of historic highlights, including the spectacular Joseon-era Gyeongbokgung Palace, “the great south gate” of Namdaemun and the eerie Seodaemun Prison – all tucked away amid gleaming offices, giant shopping centres, world-class restaurants and hipster bars.

The rest of the country is also littered with fortresses, temples and palaces. Visitors will enjoy the grassy burial mounds of ancient kings in Gyeongju, the Seokbulsa Temple in Busan, which has been carved out of a rock, and the infamous demilitarised zone, a biodiverse no-man’s-land separating South and North Korea. It is a scary place, where acres of barbed wire are patrolled by heavily-armed guards on both sides, yet the tension is so trumped up it feels like you’ve stumbled onto a Hollywood film set.

But it’s not all about history. When it comes to nature, South Korea is wonderfully diverse, with spectacular national parks, remote sandy beaches, hot spring islands and rugged mountain peaks. Gastronomes are well catered for, too, but you may have to open your mind before your mouth; local specialities include kimchi (pickled cabbage) andmakgeolli (rice wine).

South Korea can sometimes seem like the most foreign place on Earth; an unfathomable destination of curious customs, strange food and jarring paradoxes. Ultimately, that’s what makes it so exciting.

Travel Advice

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.

Crime

Crime against foreigners is rare but there are occasional isolated incidents. While most reported crimes are thefts, there have been some rare cases of assaults, including sexual assaults, particularly around bars and nightlife areas.

Take extra care of passports, credit cards and money in crowded areas and be careful in areas visited by foreigners, like Itaewon. Take care when travelling alone at night and only use legitimate taxis or public transport.

For emergency assistance, or to report a crime, call 112 for police (a 24 hour interpretation service is available) and 119 for ambulance and fire.

Political situation

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the Korean peninsula has been divided by a de-militarised zone (DMZ) separating the DPRK and the Republic of Korea. Peace has been maintained under an Armistice Agreement.

The level of tension on the Korean peninsula can change with little notice. For example, it increased after the sinking of the South Korean Navy Ship Cheonan and an artillery attack against Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, and following artillery fire in the DMZ in August 2015. Tensions can increase, particularly around the time of the regular South Korean-US military exercises.

The DPRK conducts frequent missile and nuclear tests, and there has been an increase in frequency in 2016. In the past, these have not affected daily life, but you should keep in touch with news broadcasts and check this travel advice for any updates.

Demonstrations

Public demonstrations take place regularly in central Seoul. These are mostly peaceful and well-policed, but you should take extra care as in any crowded place.

Civil emergency exercises

The South Korean authorities sometimes hold civil emergency exercises. Sirens are sounded, transport stopped and some people are asked to take shelter indoors, including in designated metro stations or basements. Shelters in Seoul are marked with a special symbol. Participation by foreign nationals in these exercises isn’t obligatory but you should follow any instructions by local authorities during any exercises.

Road travel

You’ll need an International Driving Permit to drive in South Korea. Make sure you have fully comprehensive insurance.

Car and motorbike drivers are presumed to be at fault in accidents involving motorcycles or pedestrians. Criminal charges and heavy penalties are common when accidents result in injury, even if guilt is not proved. Watch out for motorcycles travelling at speed on pavements.

Taxi drivers tend to speak little or no English. Have your destination written in Korean, if possible with a map.

In 2014 there were 4,762 road deaths in South Korea (source: Department for Transport). This equates to 9.4 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2012.

Mobile telephones

Older (non-3G) phones bought outside South Korea will not normally work in the country, and fitting foreign phones with local SIMs (e.g. to avoid roaming fees) is not usually possible.