Features // Nature

Beyond the beaches: hiking in Gran Canaria
Beyond the beaches: hiking in Gran Canaria

In search of more than just sun, sea and sand, Rough Guides writer Helen Ochyra takes a hike in Gran Canaria. You know a place sees a lot of sun when the slightest whiff of rain brings the locals out in joyous dance. On this first morning in Gran Canaria we woke to a cloudy…

Browsing English veg in the Asian hills, Sri Lanka
Browsing English veg in the Asian hills, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has many unexpected sights, but few are as surreal as early morning in Haputale. As dawn breaks, the mists that blanket the town for much of the year slowly dissipate, revealing the huddled shapes of dark-skinned Tamils, insulated against the cold in woolly hats and padded jackets, hawking great bundles of English vegetables…

See sunrise on Mount Bromo, Indonesia
See sunrise on Mount Bromo, Indonesia

It’s not the most famous, the most active or the biggest volcano in the world, but Indonesia’s 2392m-high Mount Bromo is one of the most picturesque – in a dusty, post-apocalyptic sort of way. The still-smoking and apparently perfectly symmetrical cone rises precipitously out of a vast, windswept, sandy plain. This is the Sea of Sand, actually the floor…

Braving Torres del Paine national park, Chile
Braving Torres del Paine national park, Chile

You have to keep your head down. Despite the spray-laden wind, it’s tempting to lift it above the rim of the boat and look ahead, so you can see the foam-capped waves racing past as the Zodiac inflatable roars upstream. Soon, in the distance, a towering peak of rock rises up. As you get closer…

Hiking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Wales
Hiking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Wales

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path fringes Britain’s only coastal national park, which has resisted the onslaught of the twenty-first century in all but a few hotspots such as Tenby and St David’s (and even these remain remarkably lovely). Get out and stride along part of the 186-mile trail and you’ll soon appreciate this evocative and spectacular edge of Wales. Long…

Eating snake every which way in Hanoi, Vietnam
Eating snake every which way in Hanoi, Vietnam

When the man bringing your meal to the table is missing most of his fingers and the main ingredient is not only still alive but also long and writhing and – hang on, is that a cobra? Well, that’s when you know this is no ordinary dining experience. Eating at one of Hanoi’s snake restaurants…

Lost for words at the Grand Canyon, Arizona
Lost for words at the Grand Canyon, Arizona

If a guidebook tells you that something is “impossible to describe”, it usually means the writer can’t be bothered to describe it – with one exception. After pondering the views of the Grand Canyon for the first time, the most spectacular natural wonder on Earth, most visitors are stunned into silence. Committed travellers hike down to the canyon floor…

Get down and dirty in Dalyan, Turkey
Get down and dirty in Dalyan, Turkey

Stepping off the boat at Dalyan’s mud baths, you’ll be forgiven for wishing you hadn’t. But don’t be put off by the revolting rotten-egg stench of the sulphur pools – after a revitalizing day here, you’ll be gagging for more. The instructions are simple – roll in the mud, bake yourself in the sun till…

Behold the northern lights, Sweden
Behold the northern lights, Sweden

They appear as shimmering arcs and waves of light, often blue or green in colour, which seem to sweep their way across the dark skies. During the darkest months of the year, the northern lights, or aurora borealis, are visible in the night sky all across northern Sweden. Until you see the light displays yourself,…

Hearing wolves howl, Sweden
Hearing wolves howl, Sweden

Deep in the Swedish birch forest your mind can begin to play tricks. As the shadows lengthen and a chill creeps into the pine-scented air you’re reminded of the folk tales that originated here, from gnomes and trolls to the siren call of the Tallemaja or “Lady of the Woods”. But there is one much-mythologized creature very much…

The best places to visit in March
The best places to visit in March

Whether you fancy an Aussie music festival, a literary break in England or sake and sakura in Japan, March is an excellent month to travel. Spring breathes new life into the northern hemisphere, while riotous festivals take place everywhere from Ireland to Brazil. Here are our tips on the best places to visit in March. See…

Pick a papaya in Sri Lanka
Pick a papaya in Sri Lanka

If, along with rest and relaxation, your idea of the perfect holiday hideaway involves cooking up your own meals with fresh ingredients, then a self-catering stay at Samakanda Guesthouse might be just what you’re looking for. Tucked away in the hills above the town of Galle, Samakanda comprises two comfortable, solar-powered cottages: one a restored…

Meeting Shiva on Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka
Meeting Shiva on Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka

Sacred sites are easily accessible in Sri Lanka; you can barely move a step without tripping over giant Buddha statues, temples and rock paintings. But the most rewarding of all requires a night-time expedition to a pilgrim’s mountain. At 2243m, Adam’s Peak is far from the highest place on the island, but as the holiest…

Things not to miss in Jordan
Things not to miss in Jordan

Despite its natural beauty and vast array of historical sites, Jordan welcomes only a fraction of the visitors to the Middle East. When many think of Jordan, they picture camels and deserts – which admittedly make up 85 percent of its land mass – but this is also a country of mountains, beaches, castles and churches, with a welcoming…

Swinging through the Tsitsikamma forest canopy
Swinging through the Tsitsikamma forest canopy

Skip back a few millennia and we were all arboreal primates. We’ll never know for sure what those ancestors of ours looked like. But in Tsitsikamma National Park, you can discover the primate within by swinging through the canopy – 30m up. In fact, whizzing is a better word, for instead of bombing through the…

Climbing Table Mountain, South Africa
Climbing Table Mountain, South Africa

If the skies are clear on your first day in Cape Town, drop everything and head straight for Table Mountain. It’s an ecological marvel, and a powerful icon for the entire African continent. What’s more, the views from the top are unmissable – as long as the celebrated “tablecloth” of cloud stays away. For Capetonians,…

Visit the house of the spirits, South Africa
Visit the house of the spirits, South Africa

It’s art, myth and archeology, it’s visually stunning and you can reach back through the millennia and immerse yourself in its marks and contours. South Africa’s rock art represents one of the world’s oldest and most continuous artistic and religious traditions. Found on rock faces all over the country, these ancient paintings are a window into a historic culture…

Toasting bad weather in the Scottish Highlands
Toasting bad weather in the Scottish Highlands

First, be glad that it rains so much in Scotland. Without the rain the rivers here wouldn’t run – the Livet, the Fiddich, the Spey. Without the rain the glens wouldn’t be green and the barley wouldn’t grow tall and plump. Be glad it’s damp here in Scotland. Peat needs a few centuries sitting in…

Win a luxury cabin break with Forest Holidays
Win a luxury cabin break with Forest Holidays

This competition is now closed. Check back later to find out the winner. Camping in the UK can be a gruelling affair, what with the high chance of rain and often low temperatures – not to mention the rocket science-like fiasco of constructing your nylon home for the night. So, we’ve teamed up with Forest…

Hiking in the Tatras, Poland
Hiking in the Tatras, Poland

The country’s traditional attractions – Warsaw’s lively old town and Kraków’s gorgeous squares – are worthwhile stops, but it’s easy to forget that there is another Poland, a genuine wilderness of high (and often snowbound) peaks, populated by lynx and bears. The Tatras Mountains are as beautiful as any national park in Europe, and their…

Chasing condors in the Colca Canyon, Peru
Chasing condors in the Colca Canyon, Peru

The rays of the morning sun begin to evaporate the mist that shrouds the depths of Peru’s Colca Canyon. You’ve come out in the early hours to see the condor, or Andean vulture, in action, and as the mist dissipates, you can see hundreds of others have done the same. Many cluster at the mirador…

The road to ruins: Machu Picchu, Peru
The road to ruins: Machu Picchu, Peru

There’s a point on the Inca Trail when you suddenly forget the accumulated aches and pains of four days’ hard slog across the Andes. You’re standing at Inti Punku, the Sun Gate, the first golden rays of dawn slowly bringing the jungle to life. Down below, revealing itself in tantalizing glimpses as the early-morning mist…

A to B by cross-country ski, Norway
A to B by cross-country ski, Norway

With 30,000km of marked trails, Norway is the true home of cross-country skiing, the original and most effective means of getting yourself across snowbound winter landscapes. And it’s easier and less daunting to learn than the more popular downhill variety (well, more popular outside Scandinavia – here, everyone is a cross-country skier from the age…

The best places to visit in August
The best places to visit in August

With festival season in full swing, August offers no end of opportunities to party, from the off-the-wall Burning Man to the arty Edinburgh Festival; but there are plenty of options for chilled-out breaks too. Here are our tips for the best places to visit in August: Bike the Black Forest, Germany The Black Forest may…

Hiking the Besseggen Ridge
Hiking the Besseggen Ridge

As trekking goes, the beginning of the Besseggen Ridge is a breeze. Sitting on the bow of a little tug as it chugs along picturesque Lake Gjende in central Norway’s Jotunheimen Nasjonalpark, you’d be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about – this is, after all, Norway’s best-known day hike, in the country’s…

Plunging from mountain to fjord on the Flamsbana
Plunging from mountain to fjord on the Flamsbana

The brakes grind then release and you’re off, squeaking and squealing down a roller-coaster-like track for what might just be the train ride of your life. This is the Flåmsbana, a shiny, pine-green pleasure train that plunges nearly a kilometre in a mere fifty minutes. The unforgettable ride takes you from the heady frozen heights of the Norwegian mountains…

Taking in the views on the Tongariro Crossing
Taking in the views on the Tongariro Crossing

Alpine tundra, barren volcanic craters, steaming springs and iridescent lakes – the sheer diversity on the Tongariro Crossing makes it probably the best one-day tramp in the country. The wonderfully long views are unimpeded by the dense bush that crowds most New Zealand tracks, and from the highest point you can look out over almost…

Cycling in the Dutch countryside
Cycling in the Dutch countryside

If you like the idea of cycling, but would rather cut off both arms and legs than bike up a mountain, then perhaps The Netherlands is the perfect place for you – especially if you’re also scared of traffic. The most cycle-friendly country in the world, Holland has a fantastically well-integrated network of cycle paths…

Finding the corpse flower, Indonesia
Finding the corpse flower, Indonesia

When the English naturalist Joseph Arnold smelt rotting flesh during an 1821 expedition to the steamy jungles of Sumatra, he must have feared the worst. Back then, this was cannibal country. Blood-thirsty local tribes were known to capture their most hated enemies, tie them to a stake, and start feasting on their roasted body parts.…

The Kasbah du Toubkal, Morocco
The Kasbah du Toubkal, Morocco

On the drive up through the Imlil Valley into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, you have a sense that you’re going somewhere special. The road passes rose-coloured adobe villages and fields terraced with ancient irrigation channels that nourish apple, cherry and walnut orchards. Mules trot along the road carrying children, women return from the…

Meeting the monarch butterflies in Michoacan
Meeting the monarch butterflies in Michoacan

Early morning in the mountains of Michoacán. There’s a stillness in the wooded glades and a delicate scent of piny resin in the air. Mostly oyamel firs, the trees are oddly coated in a scrunched orange blanket – some kind of fungus? Diseased bark? Then the sun breaks through the mist and thousands of butterflies…

Visiting the Pueblos Mancomunados, Mexico
Visiting the Pueblos Mancomunados, Mexico

Pine forests, wild mushrooms and a sunrise above clouds: not what you might associate with Mexico, better known for beaches, colonial cities and Aztec ruins. The mountains of the Sierra Norte, two hours’ bus journey north of Oaxaca, are home to a cluster of villages, a semi-autonomous community known as “Pueblos Mancomunados” (meaning “united villages”),…

Taking a dip in the Yucatan’s cenotes, Mexico
Taking a dip in the Yucatan’s cenotes, Mexico

The Yucatán Peninsula can be unpleasantly muggy in the summer. At the same time, the low-lying region’s unique geography holds the perfect antidote to hot afternoons: the limestone shelf that forms the peninsula is riddled with underground rivers, accessible at sinkholes called cenotes – a geological phenomenon found only here. Nature’s perfect swimming spots, cenotes…

A night in the rainforest, Malaysia
A night in the rainforest, Malaysia

You probably won’t get much sleep on your first night in Taman Negara National Park – not because there’s an elephant on your chalet doorstep or the rain’s dripping through your tent, but because the rainforest is unexpectedly noisy after dark. High-volume insects whirr and beep at an ear-splitting pitch, branches creak and swish menacingly,…

Indian visas, Bitcoin, cheaper roaming – this week’s travel news
Indian visas, Bitcoin, cheaper roaming – this week’s travel news

Rough Guides writer Steve Vickers casts an eye over the big travel news topics and unpicks the top stories of the week. Indian visas could get easier India could be about to its expand its visa on arrival scheme to visitors from around 40 additional countries, including the UK. As it stands, tourists from less…

Joining the party at an Iban longhouse, Malaysia
Joining the party at an Iban longhouse, Malaysia

It’s always polite to bring gifts to your hosts’ house, but when visiting a Sarawak longhouse make sure it’s something that’s easily shared, as longhouses are communal, and nearly everything gets divvied up into equal parts. This isn’t always an easy task: typically, longhouses are home to around 150 people and contain at least thirty family apartments, each one’s…

Spellbound in Laos
Spellbound in Laos

The pace of life is deliciously slow in Luang Prabang, but if you opt for a lie-in you’ll miss the perfect start to the day. As dawn breaks over this most languorous of Buddhist towns, saffron-robed monks emerge from their temple-monasteries to collect alms from their neighbours, the riverbanks begin to come alive and the…

Sci-fi plants of Mount Kenya, Kenya
Sci-fi plants of Mount Kenya, Kenya

The Kikuyu people venerated Mount Kenya as the dwelling place of God. They believed if they climbed to the peaks, they would find spiritual inspiration. Straddling the equator and piercing the clouds, Africa’s second-highest mountain – the eroded remains of a vast, prehistoric volcano, towering 5199m from the plains – is a steeper and quicker…

11 loos with great views
11 loos with great views

White, sometimes stained floor tiles and a plain, usually graffitied grey door: I think we can all agree, this is an accurate description of your average toilet – pretty boring, no? Have you ever been having a tinkle, twiddling your thumbs and thought to yourself: “You know what this toilet needs? A good view!” Well,…

Blazing a trail at Dana Nature Reserve, Jordan
Blazing a trail at Dana Nature Reserve, Jordan

When you think of eco-friendly travel, the Middle East might not immediately spring to mind. In environmental terms, the region is a disaster, characterized by a general lack of awareness of the issues and poor – if any – legislative safeguards. But Jordan is quietly working wonders, and the impact in recent years of the…

Bedouin camping at Wadi Rum, Jordan
Bedouin camping at Wadi Rum, Jordan

This excerpt from Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth sees one intrepid Rough Guides writer experience a night to remember… My Bedouin guide settled forward over his ribaba, a simple traditional stringed instrument. As he drew the bow to and fro, the mournful, reedy music seemed to fill the cool night air, echoing…

A floral wave of cherry blossoms, Japan
A floral wave of cherry blossoms, Japan

The arrival of the sakura, or cherry blossom, has long been a profound yet simple Japanese lesson about the nature of human existence. For centuries, poets have fired off reams of haiku comparing the brief but blazing lives of the flowers to those of our own – a tragically fragile beauty to be treasured and contemplated. In Japan,…

The best places to visit in October
The best places to visit in October

As autumn looms in the north and spring is blossoming in the south, October is a beautiful month around the world. From the last of that European sunshine, to the wacky festivities of Halloween in the USA, here are the best places to go for holidays in October. Browse and buy leading art, London, UK…

Heading into deepest mafia country, Italy
Heading into deepest mafia country, Italy

The deep south, toe-end region of Aspromonte is still considered by many Italians to be out of bounds. For it is here, among the thick forests, crenellated mountain peaks and tumbledown villages, that the n’drangheta, or Calabrian mafia, based their empire until the 1990s. The organisation had its origins in landless nineteenth-century peasant workers who…

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