Sporades and Evia: Greek Islands Holiday Guide

Sporades and Evia: Greek Islands Holiday Guide

In the first of a new series on holidaying in the Greek islands we look at the Sporades – including Skopelos, where Mamma Mia! was filmed – and Evia, the country’s second largest island, where the Greeks go on holiday.

The Sporades, which stretch out into the Aegean off Greece’s eastern coast, consist of 24 islands, but only four of these are permanently inhabited: Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonissos and Skyros.

Skiathos is the most-travelled of the islands thanks to its international airport, and its fame lies mainly in its sandy beaches. Away from the coast you can still find isolated hiking trails and the odd Byzantine monastery.

Skopelos is larger, but less visited than Skiathos. Its rugged scenery is perhaps more beautiful and certainly less developed. Its charms were celebrated in the film Mamma Mia!.

Much more rugged Alonissos lies in the middle of a marine park and is surrounded by a group on uninhabited satellite islands. Visitors have increased in the last decade or so, but it retains an exclusive air and some exceptional hiking routes.

Skyros is by far the least visited of the traditional Sporades, at least by non-Greeks (there is a domestic airport). Those prepared to find their way here, however, are amply rewarded by an atmosphere that blends traditional Greek village life with an increasingly trendy “alternative” vibe.

Although not strictly part of the Sporades, Evia also lies off Greece’s eastern coast. The second largest island in Greece after Crete, and located conveniently close to Athens, it should be much better known (classicists might recognise it as Euboea). From its fertile north to the mountainous south it offers a wealth of travel opportunities.

Sporades and Evia: Greek Islands Holiday Guide

Southern Skiathos

Skiathos caters mainly to package tours but these apartments and villas, located right by sandy Vromolimnos beach in the south of the island, offer stylish white-washed accommodation among the pine forest and the bougainvillea of their gardens. The accommodation is simple but good value and also quietly sophisticated.

Just five minutes’ walk away, this traditional taverna is renowned as one of the best on the island, with a changing menu based on what is fresh that day (this should be true of every good taverna). Leave room for the baked apple and yoghurt dessert.

Skiathos is all about the beaches, and the fine sandy strip of Vromolimnos is one of the prettiest. It is more low key than some, but still lined with cafes and offers waterskiing.

Evia

Evia is little visited by non-Greeks, and those who do come tend to stay in all inclusive resorts. The alternative is to stay in private villas. This example, in the tiny village of Enoria near the east coast of the island, revels in its isolation, but is well equipped and has a private pool and breathtaking views.
• +44 7939 174714, littlestonevilla.com, €1,330, sleeps 6, no breakfast, FF

Set on the small square of Steni (see below) this mountain taverna specialises in meat-based dishes, either from the oven or the grill. Mountain spring water emanates mysteriously from a tap in a nearby tree.

The road up the mountains to Steni from the east coast is spectacular, and do-able in a normal car even when not paved. The village itself is famed for its mountain air and spring water and is surrounded by hiking trails.

What to see in Ljubljana, Slovenia

What to see in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Slovenia’s – and now Europe’s – green capital is a laid-back charmer of a city. Easily walkable, it boasts striking architecture and a vibrant outdoor eating and drinking culture.

s capital of one of Europe’s most forested countries, it’s perhaps fitting that Ljubljana is this year’s European Green Capital. A city of just 300,000 inhabitants, Ljubljana has often been ahead of the game when it comes to green initiatives – from the introduction of a sophisticated waste management system (Ljubljana was the first EU capital to adopt a zero-waste programme) and the creation of new green spaces from degraded urban land, to electrically powered golf buggy-type vehicles (kavalirs) offering free transport around the old town, which is otherwise closed to traffic. Official Green Capital celebrations kicked off last month, but there are numerous events taking place throughout the year.

The city oozes charm, a delightful confection of Baroque and Habsburg inspired-architecture, richly painted churches, abundant greenery and engaging riverside cafes. Moreover, its location, at the heart of this tiny, but astonishingly diverse country, means it’s no more than a couple of hours away from anywhere, be it the imperious limestone mountains and glacial lakes of the Julian Alps, the magical subterranean world of the Karst region, historic coastal towns or the lush vineyards in its hinterland.
Read more “What to see in Ljubljana, Slovenia”

Living in Rio de Janeiro

Living in Rio de Janeiro

From the streets during February’s Carnival to afternoons on Copacabana Beach, life in this Brazilian city is infused with the sounds of samba and the search for the good life.

Rio de Janeiro is almost impossibly marvellous, with its curving white beaches and city neighbourhoods studded with green-shrouded mountains, all facing the blue depths of the Atlantic Ocean. The city is being transformed, as a booming economy and decreasing crime rates attract those who like to work and play hard. From the city streets during February’s Carnival to afternoons on Copacabana Beach, life here is infused with the sounds of samba and the search for the good life.

What is it known for?

The girl from Ipanema is still walking and the views from Sugarloaf Mountain on the city’s Guanabara Bay are as sweet as ever, but its Rio’s future that is the buzz right now. The city, like the rest of Brazil, is booming, not only due to the recent discovery of off-shore oil fields, but also because two huge global events are coming to Rio over the next few years. The city will host the 2014 World Cup finals and the 2016 Summer Olympics, and Rio is experiencing massive construction projects, including the rehabbing of neighbourhoods, transport and sporting venues.

The famous Maracana football stadium, one of the largest in the world, is undergoing a total renovation expected to be completed in 2013 before it hosts the World Cup kick off in June 2014 and the Olympic opening ceremony in August 2016. The Metro is being expanded and new areas of the city are being constructed. For example, the Porto Maravilha, an eight billion reais project due to be completed by 2016, is stitching the revitalised Guanabara Bay harbourfront to the downtown district. The project will see the demolition of an elevated highway, the planting of 15,000 trees and construction of the Museum of Tomorrow, designed by Santiago Calatrava and set to open in 2014.
Read more “Living in Rio de Janeiro”

Bhutan’s dark secret to happiness

Bhutan's dark secret to happiness

Citizens of one of the happiest countries on Earth are surprisingly comfortable contemplating a topic many prefer to avoid. Is that the key to joy?

On a visit to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, I found myself sitting across from a man named Karma Ura, spilling my guts. Maybe it was the fact that he was named Karma, or the thin air, or the way travel melts my defences, but I decided to confess something very personal. Not that long before, seemingly out of the blue, I had experienced some disturbing symptoms: shortness of breath, dizziness, numbness in my hands and feet. At first, I feared I was having a heart attack, or going crazy. Maybe both. So I went to the doctor, who ran a series of tests and found…

“Nothing,” said Ura. Even before I could complete my sentence, he knew that my fears were unfounded. I was not dying, at least not as quickly as I feared. I was having a panic attack.

What I wanted to know was: why now – my life was going uncharacteristically well – and what could I do about it?
“You need to think about death for five minutes every day,” Ura replied. “It will cure you.”

“How?” I said, dumbfounded.

“It is this thing, this fear of death, this fear of dying before we have accomplished what we want or seen our children grow. This is what is troubling you.”

“But why would I want to think about something so depressing?”
“Rich people in the West, they have not touched dead bodies, fresh wounds, rotten things. This is a problem. This is the human condition. We have to be ready for the moment we cease to exist.”
Read more “Bhutan’s dark secret to happiness”

5 Reasons You Need to Freestyle Travel

5 Reasons You Need to Freestyle Travel

It feels like we go through our Facebook timeline and only see pictures of people “having kids“ and “getting married”. But have you seen the other half? You know who I’m talking about. They are the spontaneous, the I don’t know what I’m doing but I’m booking a one-way ticket to Italy, friends.

You live vicariously through their Instagram feed and you wish you were wining and dining in Rome. Oh and get this, not only did they book a trip to Italy but—they went alone and with no itinerary! What?! Most people wouldn’t even think about going out to dinner alone. So what gives? What could possibly make people get out of bed and decide to book a solo trip? Easy—to live. From someone who’s been freestyle traveling close to 10 years, here are 5 reasons you need to be freestyle traveling now:

Genuine Experiences

Freestyle travel opens doors. Behind door #1 you have culture. I’ve never been quite amused about reading about people in magazines or in textbooks. If you want to learn about “culture” close the book and experience it yourself. Some of the best stories will not be found in books but in dusty old travel journals and memories imprinted in your heart. Some of my most memorable times have been staying with host families, couch surfing or Airbnb-ing. I would have never been able to share the stories I have now had I sat home and watched Nat-Geo.

5 Reasons You Need to Freestyle Travel

Expanding Your Network

freestyle travelSome of the best friends and people I’ve met have been on my trips. I once met a guy at a park in Barcelona and after I left the city we’ve maintained our friendship and have continued to stay in touch after 5 years. Imagine being able to say you have friends all over the world? You want to go to Thailand…great you may have a friend studying abroad there. It’s becoming easier to meet other people abroad. Thanks to technology that possibility is right at the tip of your fingertips and just a flight away.

Life Is Not A Checklist

freestyle travelMany times we get wrapped up into creating the most epic bucket list. I need to do “X” before I do “X” and then I need to see “X”. While you travel, be flexible. Schedules are meant to be broken. If you try to fit everything in an itinerary you will be highly disappointed. Freestyle travel requires something to go wrong. Like the time I had my bags delayed for 2 days and almost canceled a three-week backpacking trip to Central America. Have a backup plan in case something goes wrong. If worst comes to worst learn to wash your only clothes in the sink, pray for bags to show up and walk into town for a cafe con leche.

Getting Lost Is Real

freestyle travelThe phrase, “Get lost!” takes on a whole new meaning as a freestyle traveler. It’s more of challenge than it is a threat. Turning corners in alleys don’t frighten me, they excite me! Learning the language in a foreign country requires high skills of charades because asking for the nearest toilet is at some point life or death as it is comical. You are more in tune with your five senses when you’re out of your elements. Food is more delicious, the colors are more vibrant and people genuine seems more interesting than back home. Following the yellow brick road led Dorothy to The Emerald City. Where will your road take you next?

Me, Myself and I

freestyle travelDespite all the cheesy travel quotes you find on Pinterest about travel, doing some globe trekking on your own WILL prompt you to ask yourself and question the world around you . Being alone is okay. Take advantage of those small moments and learn a little more about yourself. They say no one knows you better than you know yourself. I challenge you to test that with a solo trip. Maybe you find yourself while climbing to the top of a mountain or you finally learn how to feel peace and serenity afloat on the sea. Be selfish. This is time for you to learn wisdom in thy youth.

Discover the Past, Present, and Future of the Holy Land in 11 Days

Discover the Past, Present, and Future of the Holy Land in 11 Days

Immerse yourself in the history and culture of the Holy Land on an expedition. Explore the City of David and the ancient desert fortress of Masada; glide across the Sea of Galilee; and discover Jerusalem through the eyes of Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Hear a broad spectrum of narratives on this program, designed in partnership with Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs and Jews.

Trip Highlights

• Meet artists and politicians, settlers and refugees, imams and rabbis.
• Explore the archaeological site of Caesarea Maritima.
• Enjoy a unique dual narrative provided by the Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders who accompany the entire expedition.
• Visit the Yad Vashem Memorial and hear from a Holocaust survivor.

11 Days in The Holy Land

Day 1 — Tel Aviv, Israel / Jerusalem

Arrive in Tel Aviv and transfer to Jerusalem. Relax at the hotel before our reception and welcome dinner tonight.

Day 2 — Jerusalem

Begin the day on the Temple Mount, capped by the shining cupola of the Dome of the Rock. Meet an imam from the Al-Aqsa Mosque who will explain the importance of this holy site to Muslims.Then visit the Western Wall, touch the ancient stones, and meet with a rabbi to learn about the significance of this sacred place. A local pastor then joins us at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, home to six Christian sects and, according to tradition, the tomb of Jesus. In the afternoon, ascend to the top of the Mount of Olives and take in a panoramic view of the domes, spires, and golden stones of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Discover the Past, Present, and Future of the Holy Land in 11 Days

Day 3 — Jerusalem

Just outside the Old City walls lies the City of David, thought to be the original capital city established by King David some 3,000 years ago. Venture into the archaeological site and meet with its Israeli administrators; later, speak with residents of the nearby Palestinian neighborhood who oppose the excavations. Get an insider’s perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with an Israeli politician; then travel to Ramallah, where we are granted rare access to the offices of the Palestinian Authority to hear from a high-ranking politician.

Day 4 — Jerusalem

Today, trace the turbulent history of the birth of the state of Israel. At Yad Vashem, Israel’s moving memorial to the Holocaust, meet with a Holocaust survivor for a personal glimpse into one of history’s darkest moments. Then travel to Ein Kerem, where Christian tradition says John the Baptist was born. An Israeli and a Palestinian guide will each tell their divergent narrative of the village’s role in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Enjoy time to explore Jerusalem on your own. Tonight, gather for a discussion with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists from the Bereaved Families Forum.

Day 5 — Bethlehem and the West Bank

Travel to the Gush Etzion settlement bloc to hear the viewpoints of Israeli settlers. Continue to Bethlehem and visit Manger Square; then, at the Church of the Nativity, descend into the cave revered by many as the birthplace of Jesus. Walk through a nearby Palestinian refugee camp, and learn how murals and graffiti have been used to depict the refugees’ struggles. Our final stop is Herodion, a volcano-shaped hill and fortress built by Herod the Great. Over dinner, take in a musical performance by a group of Israeli and Palestinian musicians.

Discover the Past, Present, and Future of the Holy Land in 11 Days

Day 6 — Jerusalem / Jericho / Dead Sea

This morning, meet with an environmentalist from Friends of the Earth Middle East, whose efforts to foster Arab-Jewish cooperation through environmental stewardship were featured in the special April 2010 “Water” issue of National Geographic magazine.

View the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum, and then drive down through the Judean Desert to Jericho to visit the archaeological site of Tel Jericho. This afternoon, continue to our hotel, located in the Ein Gedi kibbutz on the shores of the Dead Sea. Learn about the kibbutz movement before enjoying time on your own to float in the Dead Sea, wander through the hotel’s botanical garden, or enjoy an optional spa treatment.

Day 7 — The Jordan River Valley / Tiberias

Soar up the flank of Masada in a gondola and explore King Herod’s 2,000-year-old mountaintop refuge. Then follow the Jordan Valley north to the Roman city of Bet She’an to see its remarkably preserved amphitheater, baths, and column-lined streets. Along the way, stop to dip your feet in the Jordan River, where Christian pilgrims come to be baptized.

Day 8 — Galilee

Visit Caesarea Philippi, a center of worship from the Hellenic age to the early Christian era. Explore the area as you wish this afternoon: follow a scenic trail to the Banias waterfall or enjoy a short hike through Tel Dan National Park to the ancient city of Dan. Take a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee from Tiberias to Capernaum, where Jesus lived and preached and where many apostles, including Peter, made their home.

Day 9 — Nazareth / Jaffa / Tel Aviv

Hear the perspective of an Israeli Arab Christian on the way to Nazareth, where we visit the Basilica of the Annunciation, one of the largest churches in the Middle East. On an excursion to the mountaintop village of Beit Jann, discover the secretive traditions of the Druze people, and enjoy lunch with a Druze family in their home. Travel toward the Mediterranean coast this afternoon, and explore picturesque Jaffa, a strategic port town dating back to the Bronze Age. The bustling city of Tel Aviv is our home for tonight. Enjoy dinner here on your own.

Days 10 & 11 — Caesarea Maritima / Tel Aviv

Follow the coast north to Caesarea Maritima, Herod’s harbor city, and visit the ruins with geo-archaeologist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Beverly Goodman. Then enjoy a free afternoon in Tel Aviv before gathering for a farewell reception and dinner. After breakfast the next morning, transfer to the airport for your flight home.

Introducing Chios Island, Greece

Introducing Chios Island, Greece

Likeable Chios is one of Greece’s bigger islands and, with its small neighbour Inousses, is significant in national history as the ancestral home of shipping barons. Its varied terrain ranges from lonesome mountain crags in the north, to the citrus-grove estates of Kampos, near the island’s port capital in the centre, to the fertile Mastihohoria in the south – the only place in the world where mastic trees are commercially productive.

Chians are a hospitable lot who take great pride in their history, traditions and livelihood. For the visitor, this translates into opportunities for interaction with Chian culture, ranging from art and cuisine to hiking and eco-activities.

Chios enjoys regular boat connections throughout the northeastern Aegean Islands, and has an airport. Between them, the ports of Chios Town in the east and Volissos in the northwest offer regular ferries to the intriguing, little-visited satellite islands of Psara and Inousses, which share Chios’ legacy of maritime greatness, and to the lively Turkish coastal resorts just across the water.

Introducing Chios Island, Greece

Where to Stay

Perleas Estate

In the interior of this popular island is this superbly-restored old mansion set in four acres of land now given over to organic fruit, olives and vegetables. Attention to detail is the key here, with the gorgeous rooms mixing traditional styles with a nod to the Genoan history of the estate.

• £585, +30 22710 32217

Where to Eat

Fabrika

In an old olive press in the market town of Volissos, this taverna specialises in grilled meat (done properly over charcoal). For the carnivore this is heaven (in particular try kokoretsi if it’s on the day’s menu – just don’t ask what it is first) but don’t worry if that’s not your thing as there are plenty of other dishes.
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• +30 22740 22045

Don’t Miss

Chios made its fortune from the harvesting of mastic, a tree resin once chewed in the harems of Ottoman Istanbul. The product is just a curiosity now, but the villages that were based around the industry still make worthwhile visit. The houses of striking Pyrgi are decorated with whitewash patterns on top of the black, volcanic rock underneath.

Introducing Chios Island, Greece

Where is the Chios Island?

Chios is the fifth largest of the Greek islands, situated in the Aegean Sea, 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) off the Anatolian coast. The island is separated from Turkey by the Çeşme Strait. Chios is notable for its exports of mastic gum and its nickname is The mastic island. Tourist attractions include its medieval villages and the 11th-century monastery of Nea Moni, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Administratively, the island forms a separate municipality within the Chios regional unit, which is part of the North Aegean region. The principal town of the island and seat of the municipality is Chios town. Locals refer to Chios town as “Chora” literally means land or country, but usually refers to the capital or a settlement at the highest point of a Greek island).

Explore the most beautiful places in the Faroe Islands

Explore the most beautiful places in the Faroe Islands

A tiny 18-island archipelago roughly halfway between Iceland and Scotland, with nearly twice as many sheep as people, the Faroe Islands have a romantic appeal for travellers looking for a remote, back-to-nature experience. In March, the islands will be one of only two places in the world to see the total solar eclipse (the Norwegian islands of Svalbard being the other).

It’s a great reason to visit the Faroes – a magical world of waterfalls and fjords and huge bird colonies. There’s a vibrant cultural scene, too – festivals and boat races in traditional Faroese boats fill the summer months – but among the most intimate and left-field is Hoyma, a new music festival held each November, which takes place in locals’ sitting rooms. Most hotels are booked now for the eclipse, but there are still B&B and camping options: see solareclipse.fo. Flights are via Copenhagen or Oslo with Atlantic Airways.

The Faroe Islands lie roughly half way between the Shetland Islands and Iceland – so not the warmest nor sunniest place to visit! The economy is based on farming (and eating) sheep, catching fish and, when they’re unlucky enough to be passing, pilot whales are driven ashore and hacked to pieces on the beaches.

Explore the most beautiful places in the Faroe Islands

All in all, not an easy place to be veggie, even harder for a vegan like myself! And considering the islands epic reputation for foul weather, camping was never going to be the easiest of options. Welcome to the world of “extreme-endurance-holidays!”

Despite these obvious drawbacks the Faroes do have a few things in their favour; rugged and beautiful scenery and more seabirds than people. The first thing you have to do as a vegan camper is work out the Danish words for things like meat / whey / milk / eggs etc so you’ve got a fighting chance of getting suitable foods in the supermarket. Thankfully, arriving on a ferry from Scotland means you can take along a few ‘safe’ foods – rice, veggie stock powder plus dried soya mince are good staples. Don’t even think of walking into a restaurant or fast food outlet and finding something vegan although you might just get something veggie.

Once you’ve got your basketful of goods get ready to pay double the UK rates for groceries, but its a holiday, so why not! Then heave your 20kg ruc-sac down to the ferry terminal to catch a bus (but spend £1 on a timetable first!) An hour long ride will cost you about £9 one way and if you’re lucky you might get to see some of the fabulous scenery, that’s if its not raining or you’re travelling through a 3 mile long road tunnel.

Once you get off the bus your holiday really begins. You’re hopefully looking forwards to climbing a particular mountain or visiting some spectacular bird cliffs by the sea. You’ll first need to find a scrap of flat land to pitch your tent on – but all the flat land is given over to sheep farming and is privately owned, so its time to start knocking on doors and in your very fractured Faroese ask a local if you can sleep in his soggy field for a night or two. Thankfully the Faroese are for the most part very accommodating – so long as you don’t mention the traditional whale-hunt!

Explore the most beautiful places in the Faroe Islands

Once the tent is up make your way to the highest mountain peak to be stunned by the incredible view from the summit. There aren’t any footpaths or way markers as we know them in the UK so just do your best. A couple of hundred metres from the summit you hit a bank of mist. Considering that steep, knife-edge ridges are the norm in the Faroes you really don’t want to walk a ledge that’s as precarious as a tightrope in the dark with a half mile drop on one side. So you wait for the mist to clear. You sit and eat your nuts and chocolate and admire what little view you do have. The mist refuses to budge so you head back to the tent getting soaked on the way and then lie there for a few hours reading a damp paperback, all the while telling yourself you’re having fun because this is a holiday.

Faroe Islands mountainYou wait three days for the weather to improve so that you can negotiate the dangerous mountain headland and get to ‘Enniberg’, which at 750m+ are Europe’s highest sea cliffs. The mist doesn’t clear, the rain never stops, you’re running low on rice, fuel, dry books to read and sanity. The local shop is tiny and sells leg of lamb, bread that’s looks as though its made from bricks and, for some reason, bow-ties!

In the end your patience is rewarded and the weather breaks. You make a sprint up the mountain confident that Enniberg is now within your grasp! Just then a friendly but insecure sheep dog takes a liking to you. You throw a stick to buy yourself some time to do a runner and lose him but he just brings it back with a look of longing in his eyes and then begins to follow you up the mountain. You try to ignore him but he’s hot on your heels, then you consider how perilous the headland is and what would happen to the poor dog if the mist rolls back down and he gets separated from you! Will he find his own way back or end up as snack food for the gulls when he tumbles 700m down a cliff? You sit down and weigh up the options – this would be so much easier if you didn’t give a damn about animals!

In the end after much lip-chewing and head scratching you do what’s best for the dog and retreat from the mountain, taking him back to the village, hoping from there that he’ll make his own way home. Then, like an unfaithful partner the little Judas does a runner and sucks up to a new batch of holiday makers that were foolhardy enough to come to the Faroes, leaving you all alone! You look back up the mountain and the mist has returned. Then you go back to your tent and get an early night because tomorrow you have to pack up a wet tent before a six mile road walk to the next village which is the only place you can catch a bus from on a Sunday. The bus is due at 09.00 so you work out the start time!

Repeat this process for about a fortnight and you have the prefect vegan camper ’s holiday. When you get back to Torshavn, the capital, you tour the streets before boarding your ferry home and by chance spot a scrap of graffiti in local dialect. The word ‘vegan’ is sprayed onto a wall in the centre of town. Your heart is lifted – you’re not alone on these islands! Then you make your way to the ferry where you’ll share a four berth bunk with three smelly strangers and live off peanuts and crisps for the next 48 hours – god bless duty free beer!

Havana, Cuba as a New Travel Destination

Havana, Cuba as a New Travel Destination

Last month, President Obama announced that America would be re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba – meaning change is sure to follow, so head to Cuba sooner rather than later to enjoy its unique old-school charms. With the government slowly allowing the development of non-state-owned tourism, there’s been a growth in private enterprise recently – particularly seen in Old Havana, a thriving cultural hub, with new bars like O’Reilly 304, and recently opened stylish B&B Casa Alta (£19-25 a night) adding to the buzz.

To mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of the southern city of Santiago de Cuba on 25 July, a week of partying and a carnival has been planned.

World Expeditions has a new 12-day cycling tour, exploring the country’s lesser-known spots, from £1,567pp. And Che Guevara’s son, Ernesto junior, has just launched six- and nine-day motorbike tours of the island – and leads some tours himself (from £1,999)

Havana, Cuba as a New Travel Destination

Where is the Havana, Cuba?

Havana (Spanish: La Habana) is the capital city, largest city, province, major port, and leading commercial centre of Cuba. The city proper has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants, and it spans a total of 728.26 km2 (281.18 sq mi) – making it the largest city by area, the most populous city, and the third largest metropolitan area in the Caribbean region.

The city extends mostly westward and southward from the bay, which is entered through a narrow inlet and which divides into three main harbours: Marimelena, Guanabacoa and Atarés. The sluggish Almendares River traverses the city from south to north, entering the Straits of Florida a few miles west of the bay.

The city of Havana was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century and due to its strategic location it served as a springboard for the Spanish conquest of the continent becoming a stopping point for the treasure-laden Spanish galleons on the crossing between the New World and the Old World. King Philip II of Spain granted Havana the title of City in 1592. Walls as well as forts were built to protect the old city. The sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana’s harbor in 1898 was the immediate cause of the Spanish–American War.

Contemporary Havana can essentially be described as three cities in one: Old Havana, Vedado and the newer suburban districts. The city is the center of the Cuban government, and home to various ministries, headquarters of businesses and over 90 diplomatic offices. The current mayor is Marta Hernández from the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). In 2009, the city/province had the 3rd highest income in the country.

The city attracts over a million tourists annually, the Official Census for Havana reports that in 2010 the city was visited by 1,176,627 international tourists, a 20.0% increase from 2005. The historic centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. The city is also noted for its history, culture, architecture and monuments. As typical of Cuba, Havana also features a tropical climate.

In May 2015, Havana was officially recognized as one of the New7Wonders Cities together with Vigan, Doha, La Paz, Durban, Beirut, and Kuala Lumpur.

A Backpacker’s Guide for Your Next Adventure

A Backpacker’s Guide for Your Next Adventure

Whether you’re setting out for a backpacking trip to Asia or Europe, preparing and packing your backpack can be tricky and it will require some thought and planning. Here’s a complete backpacker’s guide to the do’s and don’ts of packing.

Packing light is key but is easier said than done, when it comes time for you to actually sit down and pack. Our first instinct, especially for those more cautious packers, is usually to pack everything that comes to mind, just on the slight chance that you may have to use it once or twice.

Your backpack is going to be your life for the duration of your travels. Whether you plan to be gone for a couple weeks, or a couple months, you’re going to be wearing your backpack on your back the entire time. It’s important to remember this and only pack the essentials. A smaller, and lighter backpack will be less cumbersome for you. It’ll make you a happier traveller and make for a better backpacking experience.

Clothing

When packing your clothes, fight the urge to throw your entire closet in your bag. You’re not going to need everything, that extra fleece sweater is only going to take up space. Pack only a couple pairs of bottoms, shirts, a swimsuit and about six pairs of underwear. You can easily wash your clothes wherever you’re staying.

Sunblock

Be prepared for the weather. Research ahead of time so that you’re aware of your travel destination’s current climate beforehand. For those hotter destinations, you’ll want sunblock to wear while you’re out and about. Purchase a travel size, so that it doesn’t take up much room in your pack. You can easily invest in another sunblock if you run out on the trip.

Day Pack

Bring along a small day pack, so that when you are going out on day trips to tour the different cities and towns, you won’t have to carry your large backpack around all day. Keep your backpack back at the hostel, in a security locked room that they provide. This will make for much more enjoyable day outs.

Phrase / Language Book

Invest in a travel size phrase or language book for the trip. It doesn’t take up much room and it will come in handy when you’re trying to communicate and socialize with the locals.

International Adapter

Another great investment for the trip is an international adapter. Your phone is a great tool for booking accommodations, checking bus schedules and getting directions, you’ll want to keep it charged so that you’re prepared for anything.