USA and Canada
We spent three and a half months on a road trip around the US and Canada in the winter of 2017 (Jan to April). Before we went we couldn't find much specific info on road trippin' at this time of year so we just had to wing it. This post contains our tips on some things we did and items we took which made the experience a good one.
In 1763, after the British had defeated the French to take control of what is today Canada they ceded a small archipelago of islands off the Newfoundland coast to France. Today St Pierre et Miquelon remains a little piece of France in North America. It is a self-governing overseas territory of 7,000 people. The currency is the euro, the language is French and the baguettes are authentic. I'd always wanted to visit since I learned about it as a boy. Here is my pilmgrimage to St Pierre et Miquelon.
We had a hire car booked for a week starting and ending in Vancouver, and we’d both always wanted to see the Canadian Rockies, so it was a no-brainer as to where we were going to head when we arrived on Canada’s west coast. The only problem being that it was the first week of April, and the ski season was in full flight so snow and ice were potentially going to be a problem.
But, we decided to give it a crack and see if we could reach some of the major attractions such as Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper.
So, you’ve only got one day in Seattle. It’s definitely not enough, but if that’s the predicament you find yourself in, here’s a plan for how to make the most of your one day.
The Alaskan Maritime Highway (AMH) is a system of ferries that connect 14 coastal towns on the Alaskan Panhandle (SE Alaska) with each other and the rest of the US via the port of Bellingham just north of Seattle, Washington. The ferries carry cars and pedestrian passengers.
We wanted to see this part of Alaska and decided to use the AMH ferries to get around. These are cheaper than cruises and they run all year around, while the cruises don’t. We did the trip in March 2017. Here's what happened.
A long held ambition of Cally's was to see "The Lights" of the Polar Regions, either Southern (Aurora Australis) or Northern (Aurora Borealis). With no luck over the years with seeing the Southern Lights we went in search of their northern counterparts in Alaska. Here's how we went.
This post covers a road trip we did over four days in early March 2017 from Portland, Oregon to San Francisco, California down the Pacific coast.
We’d spent a lot of time recently on interstate highways travelling across the country, so we wanted slow it down and cruise down the coast.
We spent a spectacular day touring Yellowstone National Park in a snowcoach in winter. It was a blast. See for yourself.
Many of us have heard of the Badlands but what are they and where are they? Well, they’re in the western part of South Dakota near the Wyoming border. The name maco sica (badland) was originally given by Native Americans due to the strangeness of the landscape with it’s weird spires, mounds and walls. What we had read sounded interesting so we decided to check it out and to see what else was in the area.
First time in New York? Not sure what to choose from the huge range possibilities for things to do and places to visit? And you’ve only got three days.
Here's how we tackled this challenge.
No, this isn’t about our trip to the shops to get supplies for a weekend barbeque and a new pair of shoes. It’s about The National Mall in Washington DC– the 2 mile/3.2 km strip which has the majority of Washington’s iconic tourist attractions.
We had one full day in Washington and wanted to see as much as possible so the only practical thing to do was hit the Mall. At one end is the Lincoln Memorial and at the opposite end is the Capitol, the USA’s parliament. And in between is a cavalcade of possibilities – museums, war memorials, art galleries and more. Here's how we spent our day.
Whether you call it N’Awlins, Nola or it’s official name, New Orleans, there’s no doubt that this is one of the US’s most interesting cities in a fascinating, unique state – Louisiana.
As folks new to New Orleans and Louisiana we were on a steep learning curve about the local culture, traditions and possibilities when we spent a few days there in February 2017. Here a few suggestions for things to do if you too are a novice visitor.
This post covers a road trip we did in late January, early February 2017 from Los Angeles, California to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, across six states, where we visited nine national parks and reserves, including classics such as Death Valley, Grand Canyon and Monument Valley.
We weren’t sure if doing the trip in winter would present a problem – would we have trouble with snow blocked roads, would the parks we wanted to visit be open in January? Here is how we approached the challenge.
Mexico and Central America
Maybe it’s just us, but we’d never heard of Guanajuato until recently. But having read that it was one of Mexico’s most picturesque towns, and it lay on our route from Mexico City to the country’s second biggest city, Guadalajara, we decided to check it out. As things transpired it turned out to be one of the most visually attractive and interesting colonial towns we’d visited in Latin America.
Tikal, the ancient Mayan city in Northern Guatemala is probably only surpassed by Chichen Itza on the “must see” list of Mayan archaeological sites. But how does it stack up against Monte Alban, the significant site of their neighbours, the Zapotecs of Southern Mexico? Here's what we thought.
We took a day trip from the small Guatemalan town of Lanquin to the nearby limestone caves and amazing natural pools of Semuc Champey. The day consisted of an awesome river cave experience, tubing down the river with beers in hand (provided mid stream by some enterprising locals), a hike to an impressive vantage point overlooking Semuc, and a well earned dip in the pools to finish the day. All in all one of our best days ever in Central America.
When we booked several nights’ accommodation in Oaxaca, Mexico for the Christmas period we were blissfully unaware that our arrival day, 23 December is one of the city’s biggest nights – the Noche de los Rábanos or Night of the Radishes. Every year on the night of 23 December displays of intricately carved giant radishes are displayed in the Zocalo (Central Plaza). Here's what we saw.
This post describes our trip from Punta Gorda in Southern Belize, via Livingston and Rio Dulce(Sweet River) in Guatemala to Copan Ruinas in Honduras. We had trouble getting clear, accurate information on transport options for some of this trip so thought it was worth retelling our experience here.
long the way we take a series of boat, bus and colectivos (small minivan collective taxis) to finally get to our destination, Copan Ruinas, Honduras's most important Mayan Archaeological site.
In 1982 I visited Belize with my mate Muz Paddison and we spent some idyllic days on the small island of Caye Caulker, just off the coast of Belize City. There were few travellers and little in the way of tourist amenity and infrastructure back then. It really felt like an unknown tropical paradise.
Fast forward 35 years and things are very different now. Tourism is Belize's number one industry and Caye Caulker is in the frontline. Needless to say the Caye Caulker of 2016 is almost unrecognizable from that of 1982. Here's what we found.
Lamanai is a Mayan archaeological site in Northern Belize. It was occupied for over three thousand years from 1500 BC until the 19th Century AD. A boat trip up the New River from Orange Walk Town is the preferred method for accessing Lamanai, which is what we chose to do. There are only a small number of temples and other buildongs that can be visited as most of the 700 plus strutures remain buried under thick jungle. Nevertheless we found Lamanai an excellent choice for a day trip.
The Mayan civilization flourished for over 2,000 years from the appearance of the first Mayan cities around 750BC to the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. Their legacy is vast and impressive. There is no better place to see it than the Mexican Yucatan. This post covers four of the most famous sites in the Yucatan, including Chichen Itza.
Lake Atitlan is a spectacular, volcano rimmed lake in the Guatemalan Highlands. Two Mayan peoples, the Kaqchiquel and Tz'utujil, live around the lake and their colourful traditional costumes, which are worn all the time, are one of the aspects that gives Lake Atitlan a special feel. We had a wonderful short visit to the lake which included a day trip to two villages. Here'e what happened.
Antigua, a former colonial capital of Guatemala, is the country's most visited tourist destination. It is surrounded by three towering volcanoes, each over 3700 metres. It has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site due to it's magnificent churches and other colonial buildings, some restored and others in splendid collapse due to the many earthquakes which have impacted it over the centuries. Join us on a walking tour of this fascinating city.
Karst mountains, caves, tobacco farms, and horse riding - rural Vinales is very different from the other places we've visited on our Cuban trip. Here is our 4th and final postcard from Cuba.
Our Third Cuban Postcard is from the colonial gem of Trinidad.
This Postcard from Cienfuegos, Cuba's third biggest city, known as the Pearl of the South, features some of our favourite images of this laid back town.
This Postcard from Havana features our favourite images from one of the World's most fascinating and engaging cities.
Much is written about Cuba nowadays as it is such a popular destination. The aim of this post is not to repeat what can be found elsewhere. What we have aimed for here is two things: (1) Our immediate impressions of Cuba having just spent 2 weeks in the country and (2) A few tips that we either found useful before we went or wished we'd known beforehand that might help to make your trip a little easier
We travelled for nearly 3 months island hopping through the Caribbean and attempted to live on what we consider to be a mid-range budget i.e. $AUS300/$US230 per day for the two of us. That's all inclusive – transport, accommodation, meals and activities. Here's what we learned from our trip.
Reggae, rastafarians, rum and resorts. That's what comes to mind for most people when you mention Jamaica. We had a stay of just over a week and found that all these things were present, but we also found the Jamaican people to be some of the friendliest and most welcoming we've ever met. If you have limited time and want a couple of ideas for things to do here are 5 activities that are done out of the three biggest towns: Kingston, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay.
Parque Nacional Los Haitieses is a 1375 sq. km park in the NE of the Dominican Republic. The park's northern border is the Bahia de Samana which opens to the Atlantic. Small limestone karst mountains, 30 – 50m high fringe much of the coast. It's an unusual place that we were keen to visit. So we took a day trip to the park, which wasn't quite what we'd hoped for. Here's what happened.
To North Americans Puerto Rico is their backyard. It has the busiest cruise port in the Caribbean in San Juan, the capital. Puerto Rico (PR) receives over 2 million visitors a year. But to Australians it is the other side of the world, it is somewhere we hear little about and so it is high on our “exotic places to visit” list.
Knowing that it is such a popular tourist destination meant that we approached our visit with some concern that it might be 'too popular' to the point of tackiness, but we needn’t have worried. We spent a week in PR splitting our time between the two biggest cities, San Juan and Ponce and both were well worth taking the time to visit. Here's what we found.
Both the British and US Virgin Islands are popular holiday destinations with people from north America and Europe and they have a reputation for being expensive for accommodation. But you can find mid-range guesthouses and hotels on both sets of islands and you can visit the classic, but pricey destinations such as Virgin Gorda and St John, as day trips from the less exotic capitals of Road Town and Charlotte Amarlie. Here are four great days out that we had in the Virgin Islands.
The island of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten is written this way, with two names, because it is an island shared by two cultures, two nations, France and the Netherlands. Each half of the island has a quite different feel to the other. The Dutch half is resort central, where big is beautiful, while the French section is much more low key and laid back. Both sides have their charms and so are worth a visit. Here is a bit about our time with each.
Quiz question: What's the highest point in the Netherlands. Answer: Mt Scenery on the island of Saba in the Dutch Antillies.
Describe Saba: tropical rainforest full of bird and other wildlife, steep dramatic peaks, quaint red and white uniformed towns, and the highest peak in the Netherlands. We decided to check out Saba for ourselves. Here's what we found.
After some extensive island hopping over the previous couple of months we decided to “lime” (Caribbean slang for taking it easy, just hanging out) for a few days in SKN.
We did not do the St Kitts scenic steam train trip or visit the impressive Brimstone Hill Fortress (built by the British in the 17th century). No zip lining took place and hiking did not occur on either island, despite the dramatic tropical backdrops of Mt Liamuiga (St Kitts) and Nevis Peak (Nevis).
So what did we do? Here are a few snippets from our SKN liming.
In 1995 the Soufriere Hills volcano on the island of Montserrat began a series of eruptions that rained volcanic dust, lava and gases on the capital Plymouth. The town was evacuated and the continuing activity of the volcano over subsequent years gradually buried much of the town and put paid to any possibility that the people could return. To this day Plymouth remains as a modern day Pompeii in the Caribbean. We were fortunate to visit the island and see for ourselves. This is what we learned.
We had a short 4 day stopover in the small Caribbean island nation of Antigua (pronounced An-tiga) and decided to spend our time in one place rather than race around the island like maniacs trying to see it all in such a short time. We chose English Harbour in the south of Antigua. Here are a few ideas of things to do there.
There are no big resorts on Dominica, black volcanic sand beaches take the place of the usual white, and there are no direct flights to North America or Europe. But what you do have is nature in abundance, incredible rainforests, volcanic sulphur springs, monumental waterfalls, the Caribbean's last community of it's original Carib Indian inhabitants, and some of the friendliest people you're ever likely to meet.
If you make the effort to go to Dominica you won't regret it.
A short stopover in Martinique with some persistent rain for part of it meant limited opportunities to explore the island. But we made the most of our stay on this little bit of France with the best bread, wine and cheese anywhere in the Caribbean, and some good beaches. Tres bon.
St Lucia is a small, tropical Caribbean Island in the Windward Islands group. It owes it's existence to it's volcanic past (and present). It's many rugged peaks are covered in lush green vegetation and it's coastline has a multitude of fantastic beaches. But more than anything else we enjoyed the friemndly and welcoming attitude and approach of the locals we met during our short stay. Here is a bit about our experience.
St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is a small Caribbean island nation to the north of Grenada and south of St Lucia in the Windward Islands. It is made up of St Vincent in the north, the largest island and a number of smaller Grenadines stretching to the south. The five main ones are Bequia (pronounced Bek-way), Mustique (playground of the rich and famous), Canouan, Mayreau and Union.
We visited Union, Bequia and St Vincent, but by far our favourite spot was Bequia. Here is our postcard from Bequia.
Through long, cold Tasmanian winters fantasies of tropical islands are commonplace. There is generally no specific place in mind – it's the image that's important. Long, white sand beaches and clean, calm water; palm, mango and banana trees, and lots of other lush greenery; cold beers, fresh seafood, Caribbean music (reggae will do) and plenty of friendly locals. But most of all warmth, lots of warm weather (with a gentle sea breeze).
Well, it turns out that this anonymous tropical fantasy has a name, and it's name is Grenada. If you're lucky enough to go there here are some possibilities for things to do.
Post includes section at the end: How to get from Grenada (Carriacou) to St Vincent and the Grenadines (Union Is) on a budget.
Barbados, in the Windward Islands of the SE Caribbean, is a popular holiday destination with people from the US and Europe, particularly the UK. Many people come for a couple of weeks and see little outside of their resort and the strip of beach in front of it.
And while it does have great beaches there is a lot more to Barbados including a fascinating history, great botanical gardens, cricket and music loving locals, and good food and drink.
Here are five possibilities of things to do when visiting Barbados.
Aruba and Curaçao, previously part of the Dutch Antilles, but now independent within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, are islands very different in history, culture and landscape to other Caribbean destinations. Their proximity to South America and historical links provide a Latin feel, but their Dutch Colonial past is also prominent and very apparent in the architecture of Willemstad, Curaçao's capital. Both have stunning beaches and iridescently blue water. They make for a very interesting visit.
For decades Colombia has been known for drug cartels and civil war, but in recent years the security situation has dramatically improved and tourists are starting to arrive. We think that Colombia will become the next big thing in South American tourism over the next decade. We spent two weeks there and got a small taste of some of what Colombia has to offer.
We arrived in Ecuador less than 24 hours after the April 2016 earthquake which devastated much of the NW and coastal regions of Ecuador. We were initially unsure as to what to do. But once we received information locally it was clear that the Highland areas of the country were unaffected. We decided to continue with our plans to travel the Ecuadorian Highlands. Here is our experience.
In Best Of Brazil - Part 1 we visited the south of the country - Florianopolis, Curitiba and the state of Minas Gerais, which lies between Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janiero.
In Part 2 we start in Rio, head north to Salvador and finish our Brazilian trip in the Amazonian city of Manaus. Here's what happened.
We spent a month in Brazil. This was our second visit but we still felt that we'd barely scratched the surface of this fabulous country. Nevertheless, we were very happy with the choices we made and the places we visited. Here is Part 1 of our Best of Brazil.
Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina is a 1520 square km national park 400 kms to the west of the city of Salvador in Bahia state. It is famous for it's spectacular mountains, stunning waterfalls, limestone caves and thick forest. It attracts many Brazilian and international travellers who come to trek in the park.
We had 3 days/4 nights there and got a brief but very worthwhile taste of Chapada Diamantina. Here is a post about our trip there.
The Brazilian state of Minas Gerais lies between Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janiero. It is one of Brazil's most historically significant regions. Gold was discovered there in 1693 and this was followed by gem and diamond finds.
It's colonial legacy is still very accessible through towns such as Ouro Preto and Tiradentes. Some of Brazil's most impressive artworks are to be found in the region, particulalrly in it's historical churches. We were keen to visit the state and so we hired a car for the trip from Belo to Rio. Here is what we found.
In the past Uruguay has generally not featured on many South American travellers' itineraries, particularly those with limited time where the focus tends to be on the continent's big attractions, such as Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls, Rio, and Patagonia. But that is changing. Lonely Planet ranked it #8 in countries to visit in 2016 and tourists are increasingly discovering that Uruguay has a lot to offer. We spent two and a half weeks travelling from the North West of the country to the South East border with Brazil. Here is a bit about our experience.
Argentinian Patagonia is a big place. It starts in the north around the pretty city of San Carlos de Bariloche and extends down to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America and from the Andes to the Atlantic. It is a region that you can spend weeks, even months exploring.
With our more limited time we decided to focus on 3 of Patagonia's main attractions: El Calafate and the Perito Moreno Glacier; El Chalten and it's mountains, particularly Cerro Fitz Roy; and Bariloche and surrounds. Here's a bit about our experience.
A lot of older travellers assume that to visit Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia, particularly if you wish to do the world famous 'W' Walk, that you need to go in an organised group.
But we found that with a bit of planning you can successfully do the walk, travel at your own pace and save some money along the way. Here's our experience over 6 days in Torres del Paine.
We took a 2 week road trip from the capital Santiago to the port city of Puerto Montt 1,000kms to the south. Snow capped volcanoes, vast azure lakes, and great food and wine were just some of the highlights.
Santiago is an interesting and modern city with plenty to do. Here are 10 possibilities that won't cost a fortune.
For over 20 years I'd dreamed of visiting the obscure, tiny African nation of São Tomé and Principé. In 2011 the chance finally came, but missed flights and an overly officious immigration offical almost prevented it. Here's the story of what happened.
Many still think of Ethiopia as the old stereotype of famine and despair. The current reality is that it is a fascinating country with a rich history and a proud people.
A visit to a local village on Lake Togo where voodoo is traditionally practised turns out to be a highlight of our trip to Africa.
Dramatic landscapes with colossal sand dunes and one of the world's largest canyons; great wildlife viewing; wild seascapes and an interesting colonial past - Namibia has plenty to see and do.
The Greek island of Ikaria sits in the northern Aegean Sea close to the Turkish coast. It doesn’t have the profile of a Santorini, Mykonos or a Crete. The advantage of this, for travellers who venture there, is that it doesn’t have the big tourist numbers of its better-known brethren.
We spent a few very enjoyable days there in June 2017 with our friends Ron and Ellen, who were holidaying on the island. We knew nothing about Ikaria before we went, but discovered a wonderful destination full of great locations and experiences. If you get a chance to visit, here are a few possibilities to put on your list.
This post describes a road trip we did traveling through the Western Balkans, that is the region that sits on the Eastern Adriatic and Ionian Seas. We started in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and moved south through Montenegro and Albania before arriving on the Greek island of Corfu. The trip took two weeks and was made in glorious late Mediterranean spring sunshine, with temperatures from the mid 20’s to the low 30’s.
This pictorial post consists of some of our favourite shots taken while travelling around Italy during late May and early June 2017. On the trip we visited Trieste, Florence, Rome (chiefly the Vatican), Syracuse in Sicily and Naples (including Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast).
The Path of the Gods (Sentiero degli Dei) is a walking trail that runs along the monumental cliffs of the Amalfi Coast in Italy. It is 6 kilometres of some of the most spectacular coastal scenery you’re likely to see anywhere in the world.
We were keen to do the walk, which takes 2 – 3 hours, and to do it as a day trip from Naples where we were based. This post describes how we went about it and some comments on the walk.
This was our first visit to Malta. Ken’s dad, Don had moved there two years ago so our main motivation for the trip was to see him. We had just four days there but learned a lot about this small and fascinating island nation in that time. It has a very complex and interesting history along with a few quirky features that make it like no other Mediterranean destination.
Here are ten things we learned during our stay that helped to make it so enjoyable.
How can you be in Italy, yet not be in Italy? OK, so smarty pants people will immediately say “the Vatican”, and yes they are correct. But what about another country? What about tiny San Marino, embedded in the north east of Italy? It's full title is "The Most Serene Republic of San Marino". At only 61 square kms it’s one of Europe’s smallest nations. We felt that we just had to pay it a visit.
Slovenia is a small, fascinating and beautiful country in south east Europe. It has rugged mountains, a tiny Mediterranean coast, and spectacular lakes, and throughout its landscape are scenic and historic towns and villages. We spent some very full and rewarding days visiting some old friends who showed us around their interesting and friendly country.
This post covers a trip from Amsterdam to Salzburg in Austria through some iconic European cities and a couple of less well known places. The post is largely images, many of which will be familiar, such as the canals of Amsterdam, architecture of Bruges and mountains and castle of Salzburg.
Oslo, the capital of Norway, is an interesting and attractive city. There is Viking history, world famous art, ancient castles, and excellent parks, just to name a few possibilities. But Oslo can be an expensive city, one of the costliest to visit in Europe. While you won’t get by without spending any money, here are five things to do in Oslo that are affordable for most people and represent some of Oslo’s main attractions.
We were surprised to stumble across a connection between an 900 year old castle in Ireland and our home of Tasmania that we'd never heard of before.
Whoops. We find ourselves in the town of Ales in Southern France and not Arles with it's famous Roman ruins as planned. But we decided to make the best of it. Here's what happened.
A self drive circuit of Iceland took us through dramatic landscapes made by fire and ice. Glaciers, volcanoes, geysers, waterfalls, abundant wildlife and hardy locals. Its a fascinating country.
We’d always assumed that Greenland was one of those places that you could only easily visit as part of an organised tour, and that independent travel was either not possible or at best very expensive. Not so, on both accounts.
In the south west corner of Poland, close to the borders with Germany and the Czech Republic is the town of Zagan, the home of Luft Stalag 3, the stalag from where the Great Escape took place.
Seasoned travellers Brett and Linda Hardaker (Ken’s brother and sister-in-law) are recently back from Vietnam where they visited in tow locations that are currently not high on most travellers’ itineraries, but that’s about to change. In this, our first ever guest post, Brett and Linda report on what they think will soon become must see destinations for any trip to Vietnam – coastal Phu Quoc and Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park.
In 2014 we contemplated making a short trip to Oman on the Arabian Peninsula, so we did some research to find out whether this was a good idea. It revealed that Oman is a country of 3 million. It has a traditional Islamic culture and is known for its hospitality and tolerance of other religions. It has a rich history highlighting the ancient frankincense trade, it’s redoubtable coastal forts, and impressive Islamic architecture. It also has a varied natural landscape with the Hajar Mountains guarding the coastal strip; countless clean, white sand beaches; vast sparsely populated deserts; and Arabia’s Grand Canyon – Wadi Gul. We were sold. So, we booked for a one-week whirlwind stop-over. Here’s how we spent our time there.
When most people visit Petra it is stiflingly hot. But when we went it snowed! This gave us a perspective on Petra that few tourists get. And it was great!
If you've never been to Har Paw Villa you're missing out. Not only is it Asia's weirdest theme park, but it's free!