Monthly Archives: June 2011

Suburbs and Safaris in Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg, RSA (commonly referred to as ‘Jo-berg’ in the Republic of South Africa) is the third largest city in South Africa. The first thing that should be understood about Jo-berg is that it is not your usual tourist destination. You wouldn’t come here, buy an ‘I heart Jo-berg’ t-shirt and have your picture taken with a crowd of locals. It’s not that kind of place. The streets of its CBD are wisely advised as off-limits to all travelling foreigners and therefore accomodation in Johnannesburg is better sought outside of the heart of the city, where a safer bed can be found. It’s here, on the outskirts of Jo-berg, where I found two wildly different experiences: one in the dust filled tracks of the South African bush and the other in the glitz and beguilement of one of Jo-berg’s top after-hour attractions.

Joburg1

Rhino and Lion Reserve – ‘The Cradle of Human Kind’:

Situated around under an hours drive from the outskirts of Johannesburg, the Rhino and Lion Reserve is, at first glance, similar to game reserves found all over South Africa. But there are two main differences here.

Firstly, this is the only reserve in Africa set within ‘The Cradle of Human Kind’ – where the oldest human skeletal remains in the world have been found. Secondly tigers are bred here, part of a unique worldwide conservation program to rehabilitate Bengal tigers back to their native India.

Jump in a car (or take your own) and drive through the reserves vast bush land. See wild antelope, springbok and wildebeest, catch a rare glimpse of the secretive leopard in a conservation enclosure, race a cheetah in the reception area and finish the day off with impala sausages on the braai (South African barbecue). Excellent.

Joburg2

Fourways suburb – Monte Casino:

After a full day of hardened sun in the South African bush, head back towards Jo-berg for a night in Monte Casino.

You’ll need to head to Fourways, a suburban area 10 miles north of Jo-berg. Monte Casino is a vast complex set in a replica of a huge medieval castle and houses a quite astonishing spectacle. Walking through the castle ‘streets’ you look up and see the sky – only it’s a optical illusion – you are actually inside and there is a roof which is expertly lit to mimic the real sky outside. It’s a superb fantasy. ‘Streets‘ of restaurants and bars, with top storey windows and washing hanging out leads you to an open ‘piazza‘ where people flock to listen to live music before entering the delights of the opulent casino to make their fortune for the night. If the casino doesn’t do it for you there’s also a cinema, a theatre (currently showing Riverdance), and a number of top quality nightclubs. As far as Johannesburg hotels go, there are some of the best housed under the castle’s bewitching roof, you can stay at the SunSquare Montecasino for a reasonable price.

Joburg3

5 things not to miss in Johannesburg:

1.  See leopards and tigers at the Rhino Lion Reserve
2.  Party the night away in the magical Casino Monte Carlo
3.  Have a traditional South African braai
4.  Visit the oldest human residence on earth – The Cradle of Human Kind
5.  Get adrenaline kicks in Gold Reef City – a theme park set about the 19th century gold rush in Johannesburg

This is a guest post from Hugo Davison as part of a series provided by MyDestination.com

Puerto Pollensa, Soller & the Serra de Tramutano: North Coast Majorca

Serra de Tramutano Mountain RangeFor our final day in Majorca we planned to explore the north coast, travelling along from Puerto Pollensa to the more upmarket towns of Soller and Deia in the hills. Along this route is the Serra de Tramutano, a huge mountain range which looms large over the many towns on the north coast.

Puerto Pollensa is another town which caters heavily for tourists, with a pleasant seafront lined with shops and restaurants not unlike the other towns scattered along the east coast. It is a charming place with smaller sections of beach than the likes of Alcudia and Palma Nova. However, it is slightly less ‘in your face’ than those places and amongst the many small sections of beach you’ll find sand sculptors creating huge castles and beasts in the sand.

Road through Serra de TramutanoFrom Puerto Pollensa it is worth renting a car to take to the road into the Serra de Tramutano, a winding back and forth which affords top class views and some great driving challenges if you like a bit of time on the circuit! The road curves through pretty towns like Lluc and Fornalutx along the way and has numerous stopping areas to enjoy the views. Eventually it will lead you to Soller, a fantastic little town tucked away in the mountains. With a great town square, a large Gothic church and the occasional sound of the tram tooting through on its way from the port to Palma, it’s an easy place to sit with a coffee and watch the world go by. If you fancy some time by the sea then it’s only a short way to the port where glamorous boats and restaurants provide the foreground for the towering mountains.

Soller Cathedral and Roof TopsThe road from Soller then leads you up towards the towns of Deia and Valdemossa which are hidden away up in the hills. If possible the road gets even tighter and windier at this stage, and you need to concentrate hard to not be sucked in by the marvellous views around every turn. Deia is home to a hotel formally owned by Richard Branson, La Residencia, which might prove a step too far for those on a backpacking budget, but there are plenty of other bars and cafes to stop off at and enjoy the surroundings.

Along this route you can really take your pick of the towns you stop in and spend your time. The enjoyment is really in the journey and fantastic scenery which surrounds you. And whilst they cater to the higher end of the market, there are still budget accommodation options where you can stay for a night. And, if all else fails, it is only a short ride (by tram if you like!) back to Palma where there are even more options available. One thing’s for sure, whatever your budget, this isn’t a part of Majorca you want to miss out on.

This post is part of the blog trip with lowcostholidays.com

Scuba Diving, Caves & Snorkelling: Alcudia, Majorca

From Porto Cristo we headed up the coast to Alcudia for a day of watersports. Alcudia is made up of different areas, some of which have developed to cater for the tourist influx with large resorts strewn around. However, Alcudia old town still maintains some charm with an attractive boardwalk on the seafront looking out onto the marina.

Bonaire was our destination for the day and home to Mallorca Diving, the dive centre taking care of us for the day. First we got suited up, had a briefing on the scuba equipment we would be using and wandered down to the seafront to ease our way in. After getting used to breathing normally underwater we spent around 40 minutes exploring the sea floor and practising our scuba skills. Having first scuba dived in Honduras the sea sights weren’t quite as impressive, though we did get to play with the resident octopus and see plenty of fish swimming around.

Alcudia Cove

The plan for the afternoon was to go and see some caves similar to Drach, though ones which hadn’t been adapted for tourists and remained pitch black. The only way in was via the sea, so we hopped on a speedboat and had to scramble our way from the sea up some stone steps to the cave entrance. The caves are pitch black so you need torches to go in an explore. They were really impressive and certainly the choice for the adventure travellers out there who don’t mind getting some slightly bumped elbows and knees. Once you come out the caves there are 2 ways back to the boat; down the slippy stairs you arrive up or off the cliff….

From the cave we threw on our snorkels and explored the caves surroundings. Alcudia shares the amazing blue seas of the other beach resorts in Majorca and it’s a great place to explore the undersea world, particularly around the coves and caves which house loads of marine life if you snoop around enough. The guys at Mallorca Diving really looked after us all day and come highly recommended. With 9 staff and 9 nationalities they can cater for any traveller, no matter how far you’ve come across the world.

Alcudia Cave

We finished the day wandering around the markets on Alcudia boardwalk, well worth a look on a leisurely evening when the sun’s going down and you fancy a bargain. If you find the right areas and avoid the big resorts Alcudia is a really pleasant spot and is certainly a great place to get your snorkel on, dive in and fill up on watersports.

Big thanks to David, Olaf and everyone at Mallorca Diving for a great day

This post is part of the blog trip provided by lowcostholidays.com

Dragon Caves & Beautiful Scenery: Porto Cristo, Majorca

The next stop on the East Coast tour was the town of Porto-Cristo. Just a few miles down the road from Rafael Nadal’s home in Manacor, this is a pretty little town in a great spot. Unlike many of the resorts along the east coast, Porto Cristo is much quieter and seems to have a much more local vibe compared to the very English/German heavy contingent elsewhere.

Porto Cristo Beach

The town is set in a beautiful cove which hosts a small but delightful beach along with a marina which plays host to a nice array of expensive yachtage. With the coast lined with the compulsory cafes and restaurants it’s easy to spend days on end switching between the beach and the bar.

Cuevas Del Drach
Cuevas Del DrachIf the adventure traveller in you gets a bit restless tanning and lazing in the deep blue then the Cuevas del Drach (Caves of the Dragon) are just around the corner and should definitely be included in your itinerary. Just 5 minutes out of the town centre, the caves take you underground into a world of stalagmites, stalactites and underground lakes that are lit up to stunning effect. The walk ends when you reach a natural underground auditorium and are greeted with boats floating on the lake playing classical music from onboard. It’s a really unique experience.

Cala Millor
If you fancy stretching your wings away from Porto Cristo then Cala Millor is just a ten minute drive down the coast. Similar to the other resort destinations on the coast it has the nice beach and blue seas, but brings with it the tourist crowds. It’s a fine place to explore out of town for an hour or two but it’s more than likely the charm of Porto-Cristo will draw you back in. With a great beach, crystal clear seas and a great backdrop, along with some genuine Majorcan culture, it’s hard to know what else to ask for.

Porto Cristo Bay

This post is part of the blog trip provided by lowcostholidays.com

East Coast Majorca: Porto Petro, Cala d’Or, Porto Colom & More…

Cala d'OrMajorca’s east coast often loses the headlines to the north coast destinations like Soller, Pollenca and Alcudia, but it is packed with terracotta fishing villages, beautiful beaches and some of the bluest seas you will find anywhere in the world.

We started at Cala d’Or, a nice Spanish town which has grown from being a traditional fishing village to a purpose built resort and sees tourists arrive in their droves. Unsurprisingly, this means the beach is busy though it is pretty and benefits from beautiful blue seas if you can get past the crowds.

From Cala d’Or we headed along the coast to a small fishing village called Porto Petro. It took our breath away. After the hectic time spent in Magaluf it was a complete contrast. A sleepy town on the sea front, lined with great cafes and restaurants all with the backdrop of the characteristic Majorcan architecture and mountains. It proved to be our favourite spot of the day.

Porto Petro Seafront

From Porto Petro we took the short drive to the Mondrago National Park which plays host to some fantastic beaches and stunning scenery. The stand out beach is s’Amarador, a short walk from the park’s entrance. The blue waters are good enough to match some of the best i’ve seen around the world in places like Thailand and Honduras. Unfortunately the beaches have been well and truly discovered and so are full to bursting with visitors. It taints the experience slightly, but you still find yourself in green surroundings with white sands and clear blue water to cool yourself from the scorching sun. Not too shabby…

Playa s'amarador
Mondrago National Park

The next stop was Porto Colom, another fishing town further up the coast. Whilst not as charming as Porto Petro, it is still more than worth a stop to soak up some of the more authentic Majorcan lifestyle without the hoards of tourists in the beach resorts.

Porto ColomFrom Porto Colom we were making our way to Porto Cristo for the night, but with one final stop en route. Cala Romantica is another cove tucked away in amongst the hills with a great beach and blue waters. As you walk along the small street to the beach the houses lining it are covered with flowers and create a very intimate setting. Unfortunately, as it opens out on to the beach it is not quite the secret you imagined as the crowds appear.

It’s fair to say that the east coast has some incredible natural attractions. The beaches and crystal clear seas would rival any, though personally i enjoy a quieter experience at the beach – the price of a great destination i guess! If you can put up with the crowds then you can sample some top class beach destinations, but if you do one thing mentioned here, get to Porto Petro; it’s a corker!

This was part of the blog trip with lowcostholidays.com

Gothic Architecture, Cafe Breaks and a Touch of Class – Palma, Majorca

The next destination on the blog trip itinerary was Majorca’s main hub, Palma City. En route from Magaluf we stopped off in Palma Nova, but it was all too similar to the previous day’s attractions so we were keen to move on and sample a bit more Majorcan culture.

Palma city is a beautiful place. It oozes class with ornate, pink/orange stone buildings, small parks and pretty plazas. For a place just to stroll around, take in the world and relax it’s hard to find any better. But there’s more to it that just parading the streets and topping up your caffeine levels.

Palma Gothic Cathedral

Palma Gothic Cathedral EntranceAfter you’ve gawped at the huge array of flash boats in the marina (and wondered when you can have one) you will see the Gothic Cathedral looming over the city. It is a truly magnificent building, not unlike Notre Dame in Paris, and features incredible detail in its stonework. If you manage to make it past the painters, flamenco guitarists and street artists looking to make the most of the tourist interest and get inside, you will find a lavish interior which will impress even the most demanding tastes.

s'Hort del Rei GardensAfter stopping for coffees in various quaint plazas it’s worth heading away from the old town to see Bellver Castle. The castle itself is certainly impressive, but even more so are the views afforded over Palma. You can get a real sense of the size of the Cathedral and a great comparison of old vs new as its sits next to the millions of Euros worth of boat sat in the harbour.

Bellver CastlePalma also has its modern attractions, with shopping areas to rival any city. If you’ve seen enough of the old and are ready to invest in something new then there’s plenty to choose from. If you’re in a group with different ideas of a good time then the city certainly caters to a range of tastes.

From then it’s really just a question of when you change from stopping for coffees to stopping for beers! If you feel like resting your legs without taking on fluid then you can hop on an open top bus tour or do it the more traditional way with a horse and carriage. Winding through these narrow streets and terracotta buildings will certainly entertain for a long time and keep you content well into the evening.

Palma View Bellver Castle

5 Things Not to Miss in Palma

  • Gothic Cathedral
  • Bellver Castle
  • s’Hort del Rei Gardens
  • Shopping
  • Quaint plazas and cafes

Palma was one of the destinations on the Majorca blog trip provided by lowcostholidays.com

Aquaparks, Beaches & Pirates: Magaluf, Majorca

Recently I was offered the opportunity to go on a blog trip around Majorca by lowcostholidays.com to explore the various destinations on the island and report back. Never one to turn down the chance to hit the road, i accepted with open arms and will be reporting back this week on the various places visited along the way.

Western Water ParkFirst destination on the list was Magaluf. Renowned as a package holiday destination and one of particular attraction for the 18 to 30s we arrived with trepidation. Needless to say the party animals were out in their droves and on the main strip of Punta Balena it was easy to be put off. But, with a night’s sleep behind us and persevering, we headed to the Western Water Park just outside of the town to soak up some sun and slides. It was nice to get away from the central hub of the town and relax without the offer of a pint of Vodka Red Bull for 3 Euro rubbed in your face.

Magaluf BeachAfter a bit of exploration we spent the rest of the day between Palma Nova and Magaluf beaches, both of which are clean and pleasant. It seems the 18 to 30ers (i accept the irony that I am between 18 and 30) are tucked away in the hotels to venture as far as the beach which makes them quite a nice place to escape during the day.

Looking for alternative evening activities, we headed slightly out of town to the famous Pirate Show. I wasn’t sure what to expect but ended up watching an incredible show of acrobatics, dance and comedy that would match any other major resort around the world. If you’re in Majorca then it’s a must see.

Majorca Pirate Show

On the stroll back to town we stumbled across a variety of great bars that had no pints of Vodka Red Bull in sight and an atmosphere that likened that of any other nice beach destination i’ve visited, a far cry from the carnage going on down the road on the main strip.

Magaluf is a tricky destination. It’s hard to look past the English bars and hoards of young Brits. But, if you look a bit harder, you can find great beaches, fantastic entertainment and some really good value hotels.

This post is part of the Majorca blog trip provided by lowcostholidays.com

In the Know and in the Raj: Uncovering Rural Rajasthan, India

Rajasthan is the largest state in India, connecting Delhi in the centre to the Pakistani border in the west. It can be quite a daunting place, especially for a first foray into the Indian experience. Poverty is raw and widespread and unsurprisingly tourism is seen as the immediate remedy. As a result the local population are keen to show of the regions powerful colonial history, stunning landscapes, devout religion, traditional foods and a real Indian way of life.

Rajasthan sunset

Jaipur and The Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle comprises three of India’s most coveted sights: Delhi, the Taj Mahal in Agra and Jaipur in Rajasthan. Jaipur’s colonial history is perhaps more visible than anywhere as the whole city was painted pink as a celebration of Prince Albert’s arrival in 1853. It has been known as ‘The Pink City’ ever since.  Elephants stroll down the main streets, snake charmers entice passers-by, and the opulent governor’s mansions now act as museums, flaunting the wealth of India’s connection to the world in the time of the British Raj.

Chapatti and Chai

One of the first things you’ll notice is how much Tea is drunk here. It’s a national institution. Much sweeter than Tea in the West, Indian tea (or ‘chai’) has evolved throughout India ever since the East India Company kick-started it’s production to rival China’s in the late 1800s. A cup of chai and a cigarette makes up breakfast.  For lunch, flatbreads (‘chipati’) and vegetables are popular (forget Naan, it’s an extravagance). Dinner is for sharing: family, fingers and many spiced dishes. Veg or Non Veg? Much of what is eaten is tapered in accordance with Hindi religion, where certain animals are sacred. Run over a sheep and a Hindu will face a jail sentence.

Thar Desert – Jaisalmer

A surreal moment in any tour of Rajasthan has to be riding out into the Thar Desert (surrounding the most westerly city of Jaisalmer) on camelback and sleeping under the stars. Remind yourself that you are ten miles away from the Pakistani border, often referred to as the most dangerous border on Earth. Disputes between the two sides run deep, as is fiercely played out on the cricket field. Beating Pakistan at cricket is a young Indians dream. They are totally mad for it.

What really strikes a visitor to this place is the basic lifestyles of most of the population. One night I found a unique place to stay in Rajasthan. It was with my guide’s family about 50 kilometres from the city of Jodhpur. Cows are still used to turn mills that control water levels to the fields and crush grain into flour. The family of 15+ lived in a very small space, a shed made of corrugated metal, and a single cow kept the family sustained.

I found it an extremely moving and spiritual place, full of huge dust filled sunsets, hilltop forts and forgotten glory. But, if you choose to delve into the rural, less beaten paths, be prepared for the reality of poverty on a huge scale. Having said that the people are optimistic, and the government is spending money on infrastructure. Everywhere you look motorways are being constructed and mobile phone networks are reaching out to the remotest of communities. Advice for the female traveller would be to always have a scarf handy to cover up your shoulders and face.  This way you will be shielded from the foreigner spotlight which can make some feel uncomfortable.

For the best in local travel knowledge check out My Destination Rajasthan.

5 things not to miss in Rajasthan

  • Jaipur – ‘The Pink City’
  • Jodphur – ‘The Blue City’
  • Thar Desert – Jaisalmer
  • Udaipur – ‘Lake City’ – often referred to as the Venice of the East.
  • A cup of Chai!

This is a guest post from Hugo Davison as part of a series provided by MyDestination.com

Tuk Tuks in Chiang Mai, Thailand: Backpacking Photo of the Week

So, it’s starting to become apparent i’ve got a bit of an obsession with Tuk Tuks. Is there a better way to get around?!

When i was travelling in Asia i loved hopping in a little tuk tuk and flying around streets feeling the air in your face and watching the world whizz by.

This photo was taken in Chiang Mai in Thailand on the way to the zoo. Chiang Mai is packed with buddhist monks who seem to appear around every corner. I loved that i managed to get the tuk tuk driver’s face in the mirror just as we passed the monks calmly going about their daily business.

Chiang Mai tuk tuk

Check out more backpacking photos i’ve taken or read a bit more about travelling in Chiang Mai here…

Top Backpacking Destinations Top 5 Posts – May 2011

The following 5 posts were the most read on Top Backpacking Destinations in May 2011. Unsurprisingly there are some recent ones in there, but there are also a couple of older posts that have come out of the woodwork! Please feel free to ‘Like’, ‘Tweet’ ‘Stumble’ and comment, i’d love to know what you think.

AsiaA Beautiful Beach Getaway – Ko Lipe, Thailand

Budget Travel Tips – 21 Ways to Save Money on the Road

Backpacking in Eastern Europe – 3 Must Visit Destinations


7 Travel Destinations Not to Miss in 2011

Beaches, Island Parties and Whale Sharks – Utila, Honduras

Hope you like them second time around as much as i enjoyed writing them and reliving some great memories. If you had any other favourites then please share them – it’s always nice to know which posts people enjoy more than others.