The magical lake of Guatemala – Atitlán

San pedro volcano at Lake Atitlán

A deep blue lake sorrounded by cone-shaped volcanoes and lush green vegetation. This sounds like a place to check out, right? If I add the twist of a thriving Mayan culture, great food and sunshine to the mix, you would be insane not to visit this five star destination. This place exists, in Guatemala and is called Lake Atitlán. It’s one of the world’s most scenic lakes, a peaceful haven of Central America. If you are exploring this region, don’ think twice, just get your tickets.

How to get there:

It is approximately 150 kilometres away from the capital, Guatemala City at an elevation of 1500 metres. Your trip will take around 3 hours, as you will travel on smaller winding roads. You can always rent a car, of course, but I recommend you the greatest fun ride, a so called chicken bus. It is an old, colorful vehicle that transports not only people, but also goods (like chicken, hence the name) around the country. Safety is definitely not the number one concern of the operators. The bus drivers drive like crazy, but you will surely not forget your ride from the capital.

Where to go:

The 16th church at Calle Principal in Panahachel.

The city of Panajachel is your best bet for a good start. The „capital city” of Atitlán is rather touristy, with all of the advantages and disadvantages that come with it. It offers a nice selection of hotels and hostels, several travel agencies offering a wide range of activities and some awesome restaurants. On the other hand, bagpackers are flooding the streets during the day, and nightlife is loud and vibrant. Anyways, whenever you feel saturated with the city, the lake will compensate you for everything.

Mayans weaving traditional clothes
Mayan ladies weaving a traditional skirt.

I started my day at the local market and main street called Calle Santander. It is a fantastic place to get a good breakfast and to try as many of the local fruits as you can. When it comes to souvenir shopping, this area also offers better deals than Guatemala City or Antigua. There are artisan craft stands with traditional clothes, jewelry, pottery, hammocks and other treats to discover. If you are not too packed up already, take a stroll in the city center. The 16th century church on Calle Principal is worth the visit. An old hotel called Casa Cakchiquel also attracts tourists interested in the past of Panajachel. Today it serves as a cultural center, but being the first hotel at the lake it once hosted several prominent guests like Che Guevara and Ingrid Bergman. One spot I missed in town but heard great things about is the Maya Traditions Medicine Garden, where indigenous guides will explain the traditional use of herbal medicines. For some ideas on where to eat in Panahachel and around the lake, click here.

Boat ride on Lake Atitlán
Boatride on the lake with the volcanoes in the background.

There is no better way to leave town than by embarking on a boat ride. From the port of the city small boats will take you around the lake. These serve as the local way of transportation between the smaller towns around Atitlán. You will have a spectacular view of the three volcanoes on one side of the lake, and the beautiful lake houses and Panajachel on the other. Not far from the city, near Santa Cruz, you will find the Kayak Guatemala Los Elementos. Renting a kayak there was a superb experience for me. For around 10 bucks an hour you will have undisturbed private moments on the lake. If you take the guided tour, the Los Elementos team will take you to the best spots nearby. For more details visit their homepage here.

View of the lake from a mountain
The view of the lake and volcanoes from the top of another mountain.

I chose another great outdoor activity to get away from the crowd – hiking the San Pedro volcano. Leave early in the morning and cross Atitlán by boat to San Pedro. Climbing up to 3000 metres is an arduous hike. The trail leads you into the jungle, and will take around 3-4 hours, so come prepared with water, snacks and lunch. It can be chilly up on the top, so make sure to bring a jacket along. There were absolutely no signs along the way, though, so either rent a guide down by the visitor center, or take an organized tour from Panajachel already. If you are lucky and clouds are not covering the top of the volcano, you can enjoy a stunning view of the lake below your feet. For more tips on how to climb the volcano, click here.

Nature and culture make for an unforgettable mix at Atitlán. Looking back on the lake on my way back to Guatemala City made me smile and think: what a great trip!

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Views from the shores of Lake Atitlán

 

5 places not to miss in Jordan

Colorful rocks at the Dead Sea

Every time I think back on my few weeks spent in Jordan, I wish I had had more time to discover this ancient land. In any of the recommended destinations below you could easily spend a week and not get bored of it. Anyways, Jordan is a fascinating country with loads of culture, history, friendly people, great food and sunshine. If you are not sure what is a must and what not to miss during your stay, just follow my advice and book your trip to these five amazing places.

1 Of course, the ancient city of Petra is on top of my list. Although this UNESCO World Heritage site is around 3 hours away from Amman, and the easiest way to get there is to pay for an organized tour, I recommend arranging your trip by yourself. One thing that can destroy the magical feeling this place oozes is 50 noisy tourists walking by your side. My advice is to rent a car and drive down to Petra in the evening. The best way to avoid the crowd is to stay for the night and start your day really early.

Petra Treasury
The famous Treasury at Petra

To get to the main site, the well-known Treasury, you can walk, or take either a horse or a carriage. Before the famous carved out façade appears between the steep red rock walls, you will pass through a long and narrow passage. It just adds to the suspense. There is not much to see inside the buildings carved out of the rock. It’s just the monumentality of these hidden Nabataean remains that will take your breath away. Of course the Treasury is just the beginning of your trip. Further into this old town you will find the royal tombs, ruins of the Great Temple and if you don’t mind walking (at least 10 km in total) the Monastery on top of a mountain. The place offers great views along the way. As you will be there for several hours, a good sun cream is a must have!

Palm trees by the sea at Aqaba,
Aqaba is the best place to chill in Jordan.

2 Once you are on the road to the south, you might as well drive down to Aqaba. After buying a short strip of land from the Saudis, Jordan got itself the favorite vacation spot of the locals. The short coastline is the number one option of Jordanians for some relax time. With its access to the Yamanieh coral reef, this area offers great fun for the divers, snorkelers and nature lovers also.

Rock arch in Wadi Rum
A spectacular rock arch in Wadi Rum.

3 Your next stop has to be Wadi Rum. Not so far from Aqaba and Petra is a simply breathtaking valley of the Bedouin people. Imagine a remote desert area with impressive monoliths around it. It all looks like a setting to a movie. Your best bet is to take part in an organized Bedouin night in one of their camps. They offer accomodation in pretty comfy tents, serve food and offer to take you on a camel ride by the sunrise. The best feeling, though is just sitting by the campfire stargazing, miles away from any form of civilization.

Temple of Hercules in Amman
The ruins of the Temple of Hercules in Amman.

4 Heading back to the capital will probably sound like a good option after embracing the desert and rocky landscapes of the south. Amman is a bustling city that offers a mix of old and modern, Middle Eastern and European. Start off in the Souk, and breathe in the smell of the city in the spice market. Arab markets can be overwhelming with merchants competing for your attention, but this is part of the deal, so don’t get shy. It is worth walking up the Citadel and checking out the Roman ruins of the Temple of Hercules and the view of the city. Nearby you will find the remains of the Roman Theatre of old Philadelphia. When you get hungry, make sure to also enjoy plenty of tasty arab specialties. There is no doubt about it: I had the best tabboulehs, shish kebabs and koftas in Amman. Find out more about Jordanian cuisine here.

5 No visit to Jordan can end without a trip to the Dead Sea. Just half an hour from Amman you can experience the unique feeling of floating atop the extremely salty water. A Dead Sea mud bath is also fun and refreshing. A personal advice: if you put some of it on your face make sure not to follow your instincts and wash it off with the sea water – your eyes will be killing you afterwards.

A coastline with salt at the Dead Sea
Salty coastline by the Dead Sea.

Some nearby destinations are also worth your time. The Baptism Site is said to be near the Jordan river by the Dead Sea. A 20 minute ride away is Mount Nebo. On top of the mountain you will not only find the Memorial Church, the supposed burial place of Moses, but you will also enjoy a great view of the Holy Land. Needless to say, I can not imagine a better end to your trip to Jordan.

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Wadi rum view with a tree in the desert

Koh Samui – A treat to your senses

thai boats on the beach

From the moment you step foot on Samui, a special journey through your senses will begin. You will be rewarded with stimuli along the way and feel overloaded with energy when you leave. The island is not big, but the opportunities it offers are endless. To get the most out of your stay, you have to balance between your options. I will share with you my personal favorites of the island to help you better plan and enjoy your trip.

An important question is where to stay. The most popular spots are along the eastern shores of Samui. Chaweng and Lamai offer a great variety of hotels and hostels, numerous restaurants, bars and tour agencies. If you prefer a convenient and bustling area for your stay, anywhere near these two towns will be a good choice. I took another route and stayed in the remote region of Taling Ngam. My hotel was located on the western side of Samui, half an hour away from the touristy cities. In retrospect I feel this was a good decision as I was able to take a taxi or ride my scooter to town any time I wanted to, while I enjoyed the serene beaches and quiet villages of Taling Ngam.

Talking about scooters… I guess this is the cheapest, most efficient (and fun) way to get around on the island. In a day or two you can visit the most important spots and never wait for a ride. Usually the hotels can organize the rent for you, but it’s easy to find rental offices in the bigger cities also. There are a few quite interesting places to check out. It’s worth starting with the Big Buddha – a 12 meter statue in the north of Samui. This is a bit out of the way, but a nice introduction to the religious aspect of the island. If you prefer to stay only in the southern region Wat Rattanakosin is not only a place to see a Buddha statue but also offers a fantastic view of the southern shores of Koh Samui.

Ang Thong National Park beach
The beach where you arrive at Ang Thong National Park

If you want to get the chills, pay a visit to the mummified monk near Lamai. Supposedly the monk died while meditating and his body didn’t decompose. A weird experience for a Westerner but a place of worship for a Buddhist thai. One more spot I liked a lot was the Na Muang waterfalls. Still on the southern part of the island and a nice little track into the woods.

Once in Samui, you will surely spend some time on the beach. My favorite ones were again in Taling Ngam and also in Bophut. Chaweng and Lamai are nice but crowded. During peak season talented local vendors will try to sell you something you don’t need every 2 minutes. They walk down the beach keeping 100 meters of distance, so by the time one leaves and you lay down on your towel, the next one will arrive. After a day on the beach treat yourself with a thai massage either in your hotel or still on the beach.

view from Ang Thong National Park
The breathtaking views from a cliff in Ang Thong National Park

Agencies offer several daytrips you can choose from. One you can NOT miss is a boat trip to Ang Thong Marine National Park. This place is majestic. You arrive to a set of uninhabited and protected islands that look like paradise on Earth. If you can, take part in the seriously arduous hike to the top of the cliff of the main island. It is only for the most fit as you have to climb on sharp rocks and pull yourself up with ropes, but your reward is the most fantastic sight you will see in Thailand. Some tours also offer snorkeling or kayaking around the park which is great fun. If you are a diving enthusiast, the coral reefs of Koh Tao are a better choice. There are also organized tours from Samui and the service is professional. As far as I know you can also take lessons in Koh Tao to become a certified diver. You can learn more about Samui diving here.

beachside dinner table
Beachside dinner to end a fantastic day

Koh Samui offers a great variety of delicious thai food in reasonable prices. And I don’t mean Pad Thai necessarily. Make sure to try Tom kha kai (a coconut soup with chicken) or Tom yum (a spicy shrimp soup) to start with. Any fried rice or curry could be a good choice to continue with. My personal favorite is a crab curry called Boo Paht Pong Karee. The variety of fruits is simply astonishing – lychees, dragon fruits, ripe mangos, pineapples will make a great juice or an afternoon snack. For some more ideas on what you can choose from, click here.

On your last evening, make sure to light a sky lantern and send your troubles and problems away with it. They are considered to bring good luck, and who knows, maybe they will help to bring you back to this magical island one day.

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View from Koh Samui lookout point

 

Tallinn – a jewel box undiscovered

St Olav's church and Tallin city walls

I always find it unfair when my backpacker friends tell me how they will travel all over Europe and visit Paris, Madrid, Rome and EVEN Vienna. Of course those destinations are a must when visiting the old continent, but how about the small gems that noone seems to care enough about? This post is dedicated to one of my favorite European cities, Tallinn. With its medieval charm, its touches from the Russian era and in the crossroads of west and east, it is truly an interesting spot to discover.

A large number of visitors don’t fly to Tallinn, but rather take a ferry either from Stockholm or Helsinki. I did that myself and I can only recommend this option. In a few days you can cityhop these nordic gems and if you plan well, not only will you find cheap tickets but your accomodation will also be settled travelling on a night ship. Check out the offers of Viking Line or Tallink here and here.

Raekoja Plats or Townhall square
Townhall square in the center of old town

Once you arrive, head directly to the Townhall Square (or Raekoja Plats). You will feel like Marty McFly travelling back in time. The medieval square boasts 500 year old merchant houses, the old town hall and Europe’s oldest pharmacy operating uninterrupted in the same building for over 5 centuries. What I loved about this square is that any time I visited, there was always something going on. Either a Christmas market, a spring festival, or just a wide selection of restaurants serving local specialties like sprat sandwich or a bear quiche – both amazing by the way. Some tips about what to eat and where to eat here.

After taking some rest, fetch a map in the tourist office and discover the old town. Head north, towards St Olav’s Church. Look for an incredibly tall steeple and you won’t miss it. When its construction finished, actually this building is said to have been the tallest of the world. Inside it is rather a puritane church, but you can climb up the tower and enjoy a fantastic view of Tallinn.

Tallinn city walls and St Olav church
The city walls and St Olav Church from outside old town

From here, following the old city walls could be a good option. Outside the walls, from Towers’ Square you will see one of the symbols of Tallinn, the long line of fortified towers that seem like the set of a fairytale movie. If you keep walking along the park, you can re-enter the old town from the south and reach the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a spectacular orthodox church with its five onion domes. A 100 years ago Estonia was part of the Russian empire, and locals wanted to destroy the church, which for them was a symbol of the Russian opression. Luckily they didn’t, and after Estonia gained its independce, the church was beautifully restored. It is one of my favorite sights and a must see in Tallinn.

Where I remember also spending quite some time are the Patkuli and Kohtuotsa look-out points. The best pictures of the city can surely be taken from these two spots. The citywalls, churches, towers can all be photographed from here, and the sea will serve as a great background to your pictures.

Tallinn old town street with colorful buildings
Winding streets and colorful buildings surprise you along the way

If you have more than one day in Tallinn, make sure to pay a visit to the Kadriorg Palace. It was built for Peter the Great as one of his extravagant residences. Now it houses several museums and the Presidential Palace is situated also in its park. Another trip I also loved was to the Estonian Open Air Museum. Near the seaside, in a forested area a traditional village is showcased for the public where you get to see how local people lived centuries before. There are farms, a church, a school and also a windmill on display. It’s a great location for families as the park offers interesting programs, traditional Estonian food and has designated picnic spots. Nightlife is also great in Tallinn. I will never forget the fantastic feeling of barhopping at around 2 or 3 am with the sun already rising over Tallinn.

If you plan to visit Estonia, here you can find a couple of ideas where else it is worth visiting. Anyways, once organizing a trip to the nordic region make sure not to leave this Baltic gem off your list. It will surely not disappoint anyone arriving with open eyes and hearts.

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Tallinn city center from above

 

Atacama – Your time alone with nature

Salar de Tara

Pure nature is more and more difficult to find these days. Tourists invade the well-known sites and landmarks of the world making it impossible for others to discover the unknown in its privacy. This is the reason I love those destinations where I can catch a few hours alone with nature and enjoy its untouched beauty for a while. The north of Chile, better known as the Atacama desert is one of these few places. The name doesn’t do it justice! The Atacama is so much more than an arid piece of land… Volcanos, deep blue lakes, geysers, hot springs make it a super interesting place to visit.

Salar de Chaxa saltflats
Arid landscape at the saltflats near San Pedro.

To get there you need to catch a flight (most likely from Santiago) to Calama. It takes around 2 hours to get to San Pedro de Atacama from El Loa Airport. There are organized tours, regular buses that take you to the city, but I definitely recommend renting a car. Distances are big, and the most important sites are not near the city. My advice is to go for the miners’ pick-ups, because most places of interest are not even near paved roads. You won’t regret it as you will drive on bumpy dirt roads for looong and tiring hours. To see your options and prices just click here.

San Pedro itself is a small Andean town with lots of hostels to accomodate the growing number of tourists. It’s fun to walk around in town souvenir shopping, drinking jugos and eating ceviche in local restaurants. Discover some options here. You might feel it’s a bit overcrowded there, but once you leave town, you will mostly be by yourself on the road. The UV radiation is unusually high in this area, so be careful when you go out exploring.

Sunset at Valle de la Luna
A sunset on the Moon-like landscape

Either for your first sunset or sunrise head to Valle de la Luna – The Valley of The Moon. One of the most renowned places in Atacama, this is a truly wonderful area to visit. From the top of a ridge you will be able to see the valley and bare mountains around you, shining in shades of red and grey. The feeling is unearthly – no wonder the comparison to a walk on the surface of the Moon.

My absolute favorite trip, though was to Laguna Miñiques and Miscanti. Leave right after breakfast, as it is around two hours from San Pedro. At the elevation of over 4000 meters, you will find stunningly beautiful mountain lakes by perfectly shaped volcanoes. As there are herds of llamas eating their life away by the lakes, this is an abolsutely picture perfect spot.

Altiplano lake and volcano
The beautiful scenery of the altiplano lakes and volcanos.

If you are lucky you will see foxes and rheas by the road while driving up the mountain. Also, on your way back to San Pedro make sure to visit the salar (salt flat) at Chaxa or Tebinquinche for the flamingo colonies. You can also chill at Laguna Cejar – a lake near the city where you can simply float on the surface of the water because of its salt content.

Another fantastic experience is a trip to the geysers of El Tatio, the third largest geyser field of the world with over 80 active geysers to check out. Tours usually leave extremely early (at around 4) in the morning to arrive for the sunrise. They say the steam is more visible at that time. I got there before sunrise, but regretted getting up at 3:30. It was so cold and still dark when we got there. I guess it is fine to leave a bit later. You will still be able to enjoy the spectacle a bit later. A warm coat is a must, though, even in the hottest summer days.

A good way to recharge the batteries after such long road trips is to visit the Puritama springs. The warm volcanic water forms lakes when it emerges from the rocks. Every lake is of different temprerature as the water cools off when it flows from one lake to another. If you are lucky you will be sitting in your private natural pond, surrounded by tall, dense vegetation, as in an oasis in a desert. Make sure not to arrive too late, though. The ponds are situated in a gorge where the sun won’t shine after around 6pm.

Puritama springs
Private pools at the Puritama springs.

Although these are my favorite places to visit in the Atacama region, you could find several other activites interesting – stargazing at the ALMA Observatory, or visiting some archaeological sites of the region. (More info for visitors about the ALMA Observatory here.) One thing is for sure: no matter how long you stay, you will regret not having booked a longer trip.

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El Tatio geysers

 

The essence of Lisbon

I read quite a few travel guides and blog posts about Lisbon and most of them offer a good summary of what to see and where to visit in Lisbon. But almost none of them actually tell you what those places mean for the Portuguese. I feel you can only take in the essence of Lisbon if you let yourself sink into the mixture of the glorious past, the nostalgia and melancholy of the city and the people.

Monument to the discoveries in Belém
The Monument to The Discoveries on the Belém esplanade.

Starting from the 15th century – taking advantage of its geographical location and the sea – Portugal gradually became one of the largest colonial empires of the world. Through the process of naval explorations trading routes with Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and the Americas were built out. Lisbon was an imperial centre with all the benefits that came with it – money, development and grandeur. The city’s most impressive landmarks were either built in this era or were created to commemorate the golden Age of Discovery. This age defines a high standard the Portuguese always long for, a pride for the now small nation in the periphery of Europe. Something they can always think back on when facing today’s challenges.

Torre Belém by river Tejo
The Torre de Belém by the Tejo river

In this light I recommend to start your sightseeing tour in Belém, a district by the river Tejo. This area with its UNESCO World Heritage sites is truly petrified history. Probably the most renowned landmark of the capital is the Tower of Belém which served as a fortress back in the golden ages. The tower is ornated with maritime elements and from its spacious terrace there is a nice view of the waterfront. Real close to the Tower you will find another memory of the Age of Discovery. One of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever visited is the Jerónimos Monastery. It was also built to commemorate the age of explorers. One of the greatest ones, Vasco da Gama is laid to rest inside the monastery.

Jerónimos monastery inside
Inside the Jerónimos Monastery.

My two favorite locations within the building were the gallery of the church with its fantastic view of the whole building and the cloister next to it. Both boast with fantastic sculptures and figures carved in stone. A third landmark in Belém, the Monument to the Discoveries also stands as a reminder of the golden age of Lisbon. An astonishing site by the river, it depicts a caravel (a Portuguese ship) sailing towards the new world.

Once you understood the glorious days of the Portuguese, you can head to Baixa (the centre). I loved lunch hours by the main square, the Praça do Comércio. It’s fun to mingle with the Portuguese and have a lunch menu by the square. You have a small chance (like 99%) to run into either cabbage soup or some nice bacalao (cod). Hope you like them as they are pretty common in Lisbon. This area is great for souvenir shopping also, and if you have some change, ask for a bica (espresso like coffee) after lunch.

Santa Luzia viewpoint

 

Lisbon is famous for the tiny tramway lines running on even tinier streets. Near Praça do Comércio you can hop on the most convenient one, tram no. 28, which will take you towards the Alfama district (direction to Martim Moniz).

São Jorge Castle walls
The fortified walls of São Jorge Castle.

You will pass by the old cathedral or Sé of Lisbon. I recommend jumping off at the Santa Luzia viewpoint. You will be rewarded with one of the most spectacular sights of the city below your feet. A few minutes walk and you are at Castelo de São Jorge, which besides being a Moorish fortification from almost a 1000 years ago, is also a great vista point.

An evening stroll and a dinner in Bairro Alto will lead you even closer to understanding Lisbon’s vibes. Get ready, it might hurt after a while… If you make a reservation in a fado restaurant, you can listen to melancholic songs that mourn long gone love and past times. Let the feeling and a glass of port take you over. Don’t stay too long, though. The music can be overwhelming after a while. If you want to learn more about fado, click here.

 

Cristo Rei statue from below
The statue of Cristo Rey on the other side of the river.

Let the next day show you a different side of Lisbon. If the day is sunny, hop on a ferry at Cais do Sodré and cross the river to Cacilhas. Take bus 101 and you are up at the Cristo Rei (Statue of Christ). The statue was built in the 1950s to express gratitude over Portugal avoiding the second world war. Although the idea of a Christ statue was not quite original (the Cristo Redentor in Rio served as an example for its construction), once the elevator takes you up the top of the statue, I guarantee you will have the best panoramic view of the city and the 25th of April bridge crossing over the Tejo.

25th of April bridge
The 25th of April bridge as seen from Cristo Rei.

In a city living a bit in the shadows of the past it was a breath of fresh air to visit Parque das Nações. This area hosted the World Expo in 1998 and gave a boost to modern architecture and sort of a revival of Lisbon. By the waterfront you have the chance to take a stroll or get on the cable car that will take you along river Tejo. I also loved the Lisbon Oceanarium, which is one of the biggest aquariums of Europe and is a great pastime for families also.

For some great local tips, I recommend to also visit this blog.

All in all, I had the impression that the best way to not only see but feel Lisbon is through understanding its past and its people. I hope to immerse in Lisbon like that again.

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Azulejo tiles in Lisbon

 

 

Kuala Lumpur – the Southeast Asian melting pot

Most of you guys spending your holidays in Malaysia are probably travelling directly to the island destinations like Langkawi, Tioman or Sipadan. Fair enough, what is a Southeast Asian holiday like without the beach, right? About Malaysian islands you can find some useful info here.

At the same time many of you will have a layover in the capital Kuala Lumpur. This metropolis is an Asian melting pot – here old and modern walk hand in hand, Indian, Chinese and Malay traditions live next to each-other, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian religions coexist. So why not spend a day or two there? I visited KL for a few days, and I found plenty of great places to choose from, so I thought I should share my itinerary with you in my travel blog.

My first morning in KL, watching families having fun in KLCC Park.

I started off my day with checking out the world renowned Petronas Towers area. I know, I know, this might sound like a mainstream idea, but for me it was a good spot to slowly start familiarizing myself with KL. I loved watching people running and families playing at the KLCC Park. After getting a coffee, I went up the skydeck of the towers. All in all, it was a great way to start my day a bit slower. Believe me, it did get rough later!

At KLCC station (right below the towers) I hopped on the monorail and headed towards Masjid Jamek. I came across a nice and peaceful mosque, Masjid Jamek itself. It is situated in sort of a peninsula where two rivers (Klang and Gombak) meet.

Merdeka square in Kuala Lumpur
The Sultan Abdul Samad building on Merdeka square.

I took a walk towards Merdeka square. This is basically the main square of the city where the Independence Parade is held every year. Although I missed that one, the Sultan Abdul Samad building was worth the visit also. It is the old centre for the British colonial administration and it is located just by the square. You can’t miss it.

By this time I was up to speed, the rhythm of the city engulfed me. It was time to head to Bukit Bintang. For me this was the absolute highlight of the day. The quickest way to get there is to take a cab, but you can walk also if you don’t mind the heat and 100% humidity. Bukit Bintang is a shopping and entertainment area of the city and a gastro paradise. I walked directly to the Central market area where I was looking for the Kasturi walk. It is a lane within the market with some reasonably priced merchandise, cultural performances and souvenirs. I got hungry and as I read about Jalan Alor, a magical alley of Chinese street food, I decided to venture further into this area. I was astonished and fell in love with this street food paradise. I was seated at a plastic table literally on the street in a jungle of restaurants and smells, but authentic food can’t get any better than that. My personal recommendation is grilled stingray. Exquisite! Here are some more great choices to consider while in KL.

Kuala Lumpur Chinatown
Colorful buildings by Bukit Bintang.

In the afternoon I took a cool stroll in Taman Burung, the world’s largest covered bird park, and in the Botanical Gardens next to it. Trust me, that was a refreshing trip. 

At dusk Menara Kuala Lumpur was also a great experience. This is basically a TV tower right next to the centre of the city. You have an amazing view on the neighbouring highrises, and on the Petronas Towers. Probably this was the best place for taking pictures of the skyline.

In the evening, if you are still able to move your feet, plan a visit to the SkyBar at the Traders Hotel, right next to the KLCC Park, where you started your day. That’s what I did. You can grab a bite, have a drink by the bar’s pool on the 33rd floor and enjoy the view of the illuminated Petronas Towers.

Golden statue at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur
The way up to the shrine at Batu Caves.

For those lucky ones who stay for another day in the city (you should!), I have another recommendation. Although it is a short ride from the city centre, Batu Caves is an absolute must-visit sight in the cooler morning hours. The place is one of the most important hindu shrines with a huge golden Buddha standing below the hill where the caves can be found. To reach the top, you have to put on your comfy shoes and climb hundreds of stairs, but the experience is worth your efforts. The easiest way to get to Batu is by taxi. Warning: cheeky monkeys are waiting for tourists arriving to the caves downstairs – hold on to your food, cameras and sunglasses to avoid trouble…

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A trip to Kruger National Park

 

elephants drinking by the riverI decided to write about my trip to Kruger for two reasons. One: this was my first real African safari trip and I absolutely loved it. Two: I had a snowball effect of some bad decisions in the park which could have ended pretty bad, so I want to share a few important thoughts about safaris for the total cityboys and girls out there venturing out in the wild.

Useful tips for planning your trip

So first, what do you need to know about this national park? Kruger was established in 1926 as the first national park of Africa. It’s located in the northeastern part of South Africa, hence not so easily accessible. There are direct flights from Johannesburg to different cities nearby Kruger. Nelspruit is not so close to the southern entrance but you can find flights usually a bit cheaper. Phalaborwa and Hoedspruit are a lot closer to the park but prices are usually higer to flight directly from Johannesburg.  The more adventurous can also rent a car and drive there. I did that myself, though not from Jo’burg, but from Mbabane, Swaziland. A truly enjoyable drive as you get to see the „real Africa” while driving on good roads. If you cross the Swazi border, make sure to check until what time the crossing is open. The one I crossed closes at 8pm. If you don’t get there in time, you will have to wait till the morning. You can find good tips about how to travel around in South Africa here.

giraffe crossing the road in Kruger National Park
When nature hits you in the face…

The winter months are best for visiting. It is dry, which is the secret to actually seeing wildlife. The animals are drawn to the lakes and rivers and the vegetation is more sparse. You will surely have the chance of seeing all you want without too much effort.

Kruger is immense. It looks a lot smaller on the map than how it actually feels like once you enter. It is almost 400 km long from south to north. So, unless you plan to stay for several days, don’t even plan on visiting all of it. Anyways, you will get to enjoy wildlife just as much discovering only a smaller portion of the park. If you have a day or two to spend there, go anyways. It should be enough for the safari feel. If you spend the night at Kruger you can choose between camps and lodges. Camps are cheaper and definitely more fun if adventure is what you are looking for. Lodges are the best choice if you want more comfort. Safety is not an issue in any of these places as long as you respect park rules.

Safety, safety, safety

elephant family in Kruger National Park
This elephant daddy charged at me for coming too close to his baby.

Sooo, this brings me to my quite embarrasing but hopefully illuminating experience I wanted to share with you about my trip to Kruger. Being an independent individual you are used to doing what you like and when you like it. You feel you are in control. This is definitely not the case in the African wilderness. You need to accept you are not the one setting your rules out there.

Rule number one: when you enter the park you are handed over a brochure with basic instructions. Do not throw it on the back seat of your car, it is not your receipt of the entry fee you just paid. Well, I did that, and missed the basic safety guidelines (see rules 2, 3, 4 below). That’s when things started going downhill…

Rule number two: don’t get out of your car during your visit, it is not a zoo. I also did that. I was lucky to be spotted by a ranger. He yelled at me and I was almost fined also. I was clearly not thinking that I might be looking at a buffalo while a leopard might be looking at me from behind.

bird sitting on table no feeding
A cheeky bird who doesn’t care about park rules.

Rule number three: don’t piss off wild animals – I was lucky enough to come across an overprotective male elephant. You better not try to scare them away. Just stay on the silent observer side.

Rule number four: the park has opening hours – pay attention to your watch as distances are large, roads are not always good and it gets dark pretty fast. When you realize some animals started hunting, you are in the wrong spot. I also missed the info on the opening hours so another ranger had to escort me out of the park half an hour after the park officially closed.

Rule number five: always have water on you – I am proud to announce I didn’t miss that one.

What is it I loved so much about it?

rhinos in Kruger national park
Rhinos hiding from intruders’ cameras.

A trip to Kruger gives you the chance to see wild animals with „assistance”. You are in an uncontrolled area but with clear indications about shorter or longer routes to take, lodges, restaurants and what is best: visitors leave each-other signs of where they spotted animals. This gives you a good indication where you want to be headed. Your top goal will probably be seeing the „big 5” first: a rhino, a lion, a buffalo, an elephant and a leopard. Afterwards you just want to see as many games as possible. In a day or two, with a bit of luck, it is a realistic goal to spot the „big 5” and also many other species.

Even if you have a day or two to enjoy Kruger National Park I recommend you to just book your trip. If you respect the rules of the park and nature, you will have a fantastic experience. Make sure to charge your camera batteries, though. You will surely need it!

For planning your visit and for basic info check out the park’s homepage here. If you have more time in South Africa than a few days and you need advice on where to go, here is a South Africa blog I loved.

For more of my pictures visit my instagram page here.

If you need my help with planning your trip to South Africa click on the button below.

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African sunset during safari

 

 

Colombia – “The only risk is wanting to stay!”

One of the most underrated places I have ever visited is without a doubt Colombia. In every drug-related Hollywood movie somebody is surely Colombian. If you ask people who have never been to Colombia to name a few things about the country, probably Escobar would come up on top of their list. International media only mentions Colombia when talking about the FARC. As a result of this „bad press” the country has a negative image and tourists are afraid to go and visit. They coudn’t be more wrong. Colombia is a country of great opportunities and fantastic people. Here is a list of 10 reasons I think you should visit Colombia.

  1. Colombia boasts a great diversity of landscapes. A short domestic flight from Bogotá will take you to the Caribbean to the north, the Pacific to the west, the Amazon to the south or the Andes in the centre of the country. One day you can enjoy a boatride in the rainforest, the next day dance to the vibrant beats of Cartagena. Every day something completely new might come along your way.

    Bogota main square with cathedral
    Bogota old town with the cathedral.
  2. Colombia has been named the happiest country in the world several times. The people just feel happy about where and how they live and they are not afraid to show it. They are humble but kind, open and extremely helpful. Their love of life is contagious. As a foreigner you will never have the difficulty to strike up a conversation over there.
  3. The variety of its ecosystems makes Colombia one of the countries with the richest biodiversity of our planet. More than 50% of its territory is a natural forest. No other country has so many bird species like Colombia. For sure it is one of the best vacation spots for nature lovers.
  4. The bigger cities are safe, developing fast and they offer a wide array of fun activities. The capital, Bogotá is a booming metropolis. Its hip dining and party zones offer great opportunities for the ones looking for entertainment. The sightseeing tourists can dive into the historic centre’s museums, colonnial buildings and lush squares.
  5. The proximity of the equator guarantess a year-round fantastic weather. The climate is ideal in the bigger cities also, because either the altitude or the sea moderates the heat. Prepare yourself for some humid days, though.
  6. Colombian food on the table
    An authentic Colombian lunch at Andrés Carne de Res.

    Colombian gastronomy is one of the biggest surprises along the way. Different areas of the country bring in distint flavors and themes to the national cousine. Grilled meet products are a big favorite, and get ready for beans, avocados, plantains in large quantities. I was astonished by the number of different fruits you can ask local restaurants to make a „jugo” (juice) out of. Lulo was my absolute number one.

  7. Coffee culture has never been stronger than now. And I don’t mean Juan Valdez only. Make sure to visit the Eje cafetero (coffee producing area between Bogotá and Cali) where you can enjoy the serenity of the plantations and try different brews of authentic, hand-picked coffee. For coffee lovers I recommend reading the Colombian Coffee Company blog here.
  8. Colombia has deep roots in the past and culture of Latin America. For those trying to understand the pre-colombian centuries, or interested in the history of the independence movement of Bolivar will just as easily find this place spectacular as the fans of García Márquez or the modern art of Botero.
  9. Bogota bullfight with rainbow
    Bullfights are still popular in Bogota, despite constant protests by the arena.

    Life is music and music is life in Colombia. Everywhere you go, you feel the latin beats of cumbia and vallenato around you. May it be a summer festival on the streets of Medellín, a dinner on the beaches of Santa Marta, or a party in Bogotá, you will surely immerse in the rhythm of the country. If you feel like listening to some latin beats, get some taste of it here.

  10. One of the greatest things about Colombia is that it already caters to the needs of the rising number of foreign visitors but it is still not a touristy destination. You can easily find places where you will not feel you are following the footsteps of hundreds of other visitors. Colombia still gives you the chance to feel like you are discovering something new in this world.

These reasons explain well why the Colombian National Tourism Board chose once the slogan “The only risk is wanting to stay!” I am grateful I also got to discover this myself during my visit to one of the best vacation spots on Earth.

If you are still not convinced, just watch this video about Colombia:

For more photos visit my instagram page here.

If you need my help with planning your trip to Colombia, click on the button below.

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native lady south america colombia
A native lady walking the streets of Villa de Leyva.

 

About Youngskies!

Hi guys!

My name is Adam and I am a self-proclaimed globetrotter. Alright, alright. I know that sounds a bit cocky. Let me just start again.

My name is Adam, I am 35 years old and I spent my last 10 years travelling the world. In 2006 I was lucky enough to land a job at a media consultancy company. For the next couple of years I was country-hopping like crazy and picked-up the tricks and secrets of travel planning, hotel booking, and getting the most out of my time at a given place. Since then I am using all these tools in my private trips and finding the best deals out there.

So what is the secret? Well, I will try to share my experience with you in my blog. Every now and then I will post about different destinations with some advice that might help you along the way of planning your next trip. Also, you can ask me to help you plan your vacations. Believe me, it can be tailored to your exact needs, budget and timeframe. There is no need for compromises at a travel agent, paying a 40-50% markup price. I can do better than that!

Stay tuned, I will show you how..