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Egyptian camel shade © waterwin

Egypt Travel Guide

Egypt is the world's premier tourist destination for historical sightseeing. From the mysterious and awe-inspiring Pyramids of Giza, to the Nile's West Bank , to the 3,000-year-old temples of Abu Simbel and the beguilingly beautiful Coptic Cairo, those with an interest in ancient civilisation will find themselves in seventh heaven while on holiday in Egypt.

However, tourists who take a less highbrow approach to holiday-making will not be disappointed by the Land of the Pharaohs, either. Egypt abounds with fun activities - such as diving and snorkelling along coral reefs, cruises along the Nile and camel treks into the Sahara - and often, as is the case with the magnificent Sinai Peninsula, tourists can combine these adventures with experiences of real cultural significance.

Egypt also has a world-class array of holiday resorts. From the bohemian charm of Dahab, to the ritzy elegance of El Gouna (known as the 'Venice of the Red Sea') and the creaturely kicks offered bySharm el-Sheikh, those looking for a top-quality holiday resort in Egypt will find themselves spoilt for choice.

With an astounding amount of things to see and do, great weather, a healthy and delicious national diet and wonderful souk (open-air market) shopping opportunities, it is plain to see why Egypt is one of the world's favourite holiday destinations.

Best time to visit

Egypt experiences hot and dry weather all year round - although things are marginally cooler and wetter in areas adjacent to the coastline. The sun can get uncomfortably fierce during summer (May to October), and so tourists to Egypt are advised to travel between November and April. You are also strongly advised to assess the political situation in Egypt before you finalise your travel plans, as the region has been volatile in recent times.

Top things to see in Egypt

-Be awe-struck by the Great Pyramid of Giza, the last remaining ancient wonder of the world.

- Take a cruise down the Nile, and savour the incredible sights, including the Temple of Karnak and the Valley of the Kings.

- Don't miss the 3,000-year-old temples of Abu Simbel: mind-blowing structures carved into the surrounding sandstone cliffs.

- Do a little souvenir shopping at the Asfour Crystal Factory. R

Top things to do in Egypt

- Head to the Sinai Peninsula, where you can see St Catherine's Monastery before snorkelling in the Red Sea's beautiful coral reefs.

- Get lost in the narrow streets of Coptic Cairo, the oldest part of the city, once known as the Roman stronghold of Babylon.

- Send your senses into overdrive while shopping at Khan al-Khalili, one of the largest, most vibrant markets in the world.

Holiday resorts in Egypt

Egypt has many popular resorts for sun-seekers looking for the perfect beach holiday. Each resort has its own character, varying from lively nightlife to laidback and secluded, from single's heaven to family-friendly holiday.

Getting to Egypt

There are direct cheap flights to Egypt available from the UK, landing at Egypt's Luxor International or Cairo International airports. The flight duration from London to Egypt is approximately 4 to 5 hours. There are no direct cheap flights to Egypt available from the USA - but there are plenty of indirect flights available.

Read

The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie, The Yacoubian Building by Alaa-Al-Aswany, and Beer in the Snooker Club by Waguih Ghali.

Listen

Mohamed Mounir, Amr Diab, Abdel Halim Hafez, and Umm Kulthum.

Watch

The Yacoubian Building (2006), Anthony and Cleopatra (1963), The Mummy (1999), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

Drink

Karkaday is a ruby-red, hibiscus flower-infused non-alcoholic drink, served in tea shops right across Egypt. Wonderfully refreshing and cooling, it is also - apparently - a good hangover tonic.

Eat

Taamiya is a falafel made from green beans and spices, usually served in a pita with baba ghanoush (puréed aubergine spread). Shwarmas are pita bread typically filled with marinated lamb and hummus (puréed chickpeas).

What to buy

Be on the look-out for perfumes, brass and silver ornaments, blown-glass and clay figurines and, pick of the lot, rich Egyptian cotton products with Bedouin embroidery.

What to pack

Lightweight (but not overly-revealing) clothing, plenty of sunscreen, good walking shoes as well as sandals, and a swimming costume or two. Cairo is also a famously noisy city, and many travellers recommend taking a pair of ear-plugs.

What's on in Egypt

Held each year in February and October, the Abu Simbel Festival celebrates Ramses II's birthday. In October each year, the Cairo Opera House produces an outdoor performance of Verdi's Aida, a tragic tale of thwarted love set in Ancient Egypt set against the Great Pyramid of Giza. The Cairo International Film Festival (November) is one of the longest-running film festivals on the African continent. More information on Events in Egypt.

Did you know?

-Beer was invented in Ancient Egypt.

-Africa's only subway is found in Cairo.

-Egypt is home to about 30 percent of the Arab world's bloggers.

A final word

A favourite tourist destination, visitors to Egypt can look forward to unique sights, exciting activities and plenty of hours of relaxing on one of the sunniest coastlines in the world.

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Sunset over the plains © Kenya Tourist Office

Kenya Travel Guide

Kenya has held a powerful attraction for visitors ever since early explorers and intrepid settlers brought back tales of endless plains filled with antelope, man-eating lions, mountain peaks and perfect beaches. The country is certainly the premier African safari destination, offering unparalleled wild game experiences in its iconic parks: the Masai Mara with its vast rolling grassland, Amboseli's regal elephant herds, and the dramatic vistas of the Great Rift Valley. Peak safari time is the mid-year wildebeest migration - an unforgettable sight as millions of animals make an epic journey across the land seeking fresh pastures.

The physical diversity of the country is reflected in the many distinct cultural groups, although the distinctive Masai people are of most interest to tourists seeking the classic images of Kenya's African identity. Kenya's coastline offers treasures of its own with excellent beaches and resorts, many with pristine coral reefs to explore, all of which is easily accessed by regular flights to Mombasa, the country's oldest and second-largest city. Most northern hemisphere visitors arrive seeking respite from the cold and are primed to enjoy Kenya's near-perfect tropical climate and year-round sunshine. "Africa in one country" is the richly fulfilled promise of a holiday in Kenya.

Best time to visit Kenya

Kenya's weather is best over the winter months of June to September when both rainfall and temperatures are at their lowest. February and March can be very hot and humid, although this is also the best time to visit Kenya for those hoping to experience the wildebeest migration.

Top things to see in Kenya

-Visit the Karen Blixen Museum near Nairobi to learn about the woman immortalised in Out of Africa.

-See the pink flamingos of Lake Nakuru Park, also renowned for its sightings of leopard and lion.

-Get up close and personal with herds of mighty elephants at Amboseli National Park with magnificent Mount Kilimanjaro as a backdrop.

-Spend time in Mombasa and see the 16th century fort guarding the harbour entrance.

Top things to do in Kenya

-Experience the wild beauty and rolling savannahs of the Masai Mara Reserve.

-Watch the wildebeest migration from a hot-air balloon over the Serengeti.

-Take a dhow trip from romantic and laid-back Lamu, Kenya's oldest town.

-Enjoy the perfect beaches of Malindi, also a base for excellent fishing and diving.

Getting to Kenya

There are direct flights to Kenya from many international cities via Jomo Kenyatta Airport, a major hub. There are also flights to Kenya from Europe to Mombasa's Moi International Airport.

Read

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen, I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallmann, and Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Watch

Out of Africa (1985), The Ghost and the Darkness (1996), The Constant Gardner (2005), and The White Masai (2005)

Eat

Local game like zebra, crocodile and camel.

Drink

Tusker Lager, or Tangawizi ginger ale for the teetotallers

What to buy

Kisii stone (soap stone) carvings, Masai jewellery, Mkonde wood carvings, Lamu chairs and batiks.

What to pack

It gets hot and humid so bring a good hat, sun-screen and mosquito repellent spray; a light rain-racket will be handy during the wet season.

What's on in Kenya

The Wildebeest Migration is one of the most majestic sights on earth, taking place each year from June to August. More information on Kenya Events.

Did you know?

Kenya has 65 national parks and reserves and 42 ethnic tribes - but only two official languages: English and Swahili.

A final word

Africa in one country, with all the wild animals, natural beauty, ethnic diversity and contradictions that entails: a holiday in Kenya offers the best of the continent for the safari seeker in us all.

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Sahara Sand Dune © Jamou

Morocco Travel Guide

Superlatives run short when describing Morocco, an enchanting land full of mystery and wonder. One of Africa's top tourist destinations, welcoming nearly 10 million annual visitors, travellers from all over the globe have worn well-trodden paths through the country's bustling souqs and medieval medinas, its dusty deserts and its snow-capped Atlas Mountains; however, it continues to delight and amaze even second-time visitors, refusing to compromise its inimitable character in the face of mass tourism.

Morocco is in many ways a country which straddles different worlds: at the tip of Africa, just a stone's throw from Europe, Morocco stands not only at the confluence of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, but also at the crossroads where East meets West, and where traditional ways of living bump up against the clamours of the modern world. This mix is fascinating and alluring, and adventurous travellers who make the effort to experience Morocco in all its confusing glory will be endlessly rewarded.

From the chaotic local market-places where the smell of spice fills the air and runaway donkeys block the thoroughfares, to the gilded mosques with their muezzins' fervent calls to prayer; from the peach-coloured sands of the Erg Chebbi dunes to the staggering Todra Gorge, from Casablanca to Marrakech and from Fez to Tangier, Morocco offers visitors a sumptuous feast of sights and sounds.

Best time to visit Morocco

Morocco has a strange climate, with great regional variations in temperature. Referred to as a 'cold country with a very hot sun', the weather in Morocco can be subject to extreme and changeable conditions. The best time to visit Morocco is between April and early June, or between September and November, when the weather is consistently warm and dry.

Top things to see in Morocco

-Visit Ait Benhaddou, a fairytale ksar (fortified city) made famous by Hollywood blockbusters such as Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator.

-The medieval town of Chefchaouen, with its blue-rinsed buildings and charming winding streets, is one of the most photogenic places in all of Morocco.

-Head to Marrakech's Djemaa el Fna around sunset, and watch in awe as the evening circus of snake-charmers, fortune-tellers, acrobats and musicians brings the city to life.

-Visit the archaeological site of Volubilis, northern Africa's best-preserved Roman ruins, boasting a history dating back over 2,000 years.

Top things to do in Morocco

-Get lost wondering around the crowded narrow streets in one of Morocco's gorgeous medinas. Marrakech, Fez and Meknes are cities especially blessed with these gorgeous 'old quarters'.

-Sharpen your bargaining skills in one of Morocco's many souqs (traditional market-places), where fantastic crafts, jewellery and souvenirs can be bought for great prices.

-Book a camel trek into the Sahara for an overnight stay, and marvel at the changing colour of the sand as the sun sinks over the horizon.

-Head to Oukaimeden, and confound your friends back home with tales of having skied in Africa.

Getting to Morocco

There are direct cheap flights to Morocco available from a wide variety of British and American cities. Several low-cost European carriers offer flights to Morocco, providing great deals particularly during the low tourist season.

Read

Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud, The Spider's House by Paul Bowles, The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelloun, and The Arch and the Butterfly by Mohammed Achaari.

Listen

Cheb Mimoun, Hanino, Lemchaheb, and Hassan Hakmoun. Watch Casablanca (1942), Hideous Kinky (1998), and Pegase (2010).

Drink

Mint tea and Casablanca Beer. Remember to avoid drinking tap water in Morocco: stick to bottled water, and avoid ice in drinks.

Eat

Couscous (semolina grains), served with stew that has been cooked for hours in a tagine (an earthenware dish with a conical lid).

What to buy

Tagines, leatherware and jewellery (especially silver and turquoise items), Berber-crafted carpets and kelims, and products such as soap and cosmetics made from Argan oil.

What to pack

Take plenty of sunscreen along, even if travelling during the winter, and remember that Morocco's climate can be strange, changeable and extreme - so make sure you have at least one warm jacket with you in addition to all your t-shirts. You should dress more conservatively than you ordinarily might back home, especially females.

What's on in Morocco

The Marrakech Popular Arts Festival brings a huge array of colourful performances to public spaces around Marrakech. The Friendship Festival (May) is a music festival which draws international acts to Marrakech in the name of brotherhood, tolerance and open-mindedness. The Casablanca Festival celebrates Moroccan culture with a wide variety of artistic performances taking place in venues across Casablanca.

Did you know?

-Morocco is the world's largest exporter of hashish, and some estimate that this illicit trade brings in more money per year than tourism does.

-The University of Al-Karaouine, located in Fez and founded in 859, claims to be the world's oldest university.

-Between 1922 and 1956, Tangier was an International City, ruled by representatives of eight different European countries.

A final word

Loud and colourful, beautiful and chaotic, Morocco is in many ways the ideal exotic holiday destination, tailor-made for travellers with an adventurous spirit and a desire to immerse themselves in a foreign culture.

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Serengeti sunset © Judith Duk

Tanzania Travel Guide

Tanzania, the largest country in east Africa, is a tourist jewel that is too often overlooked by visitors to Africa. Home to the continent's highest peak (in the form of Mount Kilimanjaro), its lowest depression (the bed of Lake Tanganyika), its most famous national park (the Serengeti) and part of its largest lake (Lake Victoria), Tanzania's natural wonders are perfectly complemented by its excellent range of tourist sites and activities.

Visitors to Tanzania usually seek out one (or more) of four distinct and memorable travel experiences. Many travel to the island paradise of Zanzibar for an exotic beach vacation, a sun-soaked getaway spent lounging on the white sands of Zanzibar's northern coast and rambling around its historic Stone Town district (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Others travel to Tanzania for snorkelling or diving in the Spice Islands (especially Mafia Island), where a gorgeous coral reef system and the opportunity to swim with whale sharks draws divers from all over the world.

Even more popular are safari tours of Tanzania's world-famous game and wildlife parks. The largest and best-known of these, the Serengeti National Park, annually plays host to the largest mammal migration in the world - where millions of animals move northward in the search for greener pastures in an event that has been termed a 'natural travel wonder of the world'.

Finally, many holidaymakers choose Tanzania for the express purpose of visiting Mount Kilimanjaro National Park, and climbing the mighty peak. An awesome sight, the snow-capped mountain rises unexpectedly from lush rainforest surroundings, and is the only mountain of its stature in the world that can be climbed my relatively inexperienced hikers.

Best time to visit Tanzania

Tanzania's climate is characterised by distinct wet and dry seasons. Tanzania has two rainy seasons: the 'Mango rains' last from late-October to late-December; and the chief monsoon season runs from March to May. The best time to visit Tanzania is between June and August, when daytime temperatures are bearable, and nights are cool rather than sultry. For visitors to the Serengeti, the famous migration occurs in January and February - but be warned that this is an extremely hot time of the year, with the mercury rising as high as 40C (104F).

Top things to see in Tanzania

-Stone Town's Anglican Cathedral is a must for those interested in African history.

-Laze on one of Zanzibar's famed northern beaches like Kendwa and Matemwe, while watching picturesque dhow boats sail by.

-The Makumbusho Village Museum in Dar es Salaam offers visitors the interesting opportunity to view traditional Tanzanian tribal homes.

-The Central Market in Stone Town is a vibrant place full of sights, smells and sounds that will linger long in the memory.

Top things to do in Tanzania

-Go scuba diving in the Spice Islands, at popular dive sites like Mafia and Pemba Islands.

-Go on safari in the Serengeti and see the world-famous mammal migration there, with in excess of one million wildebeest alone making the epic northward trip.

-Ramble around Zanzibar's historic Stone Town district, and admire the gorgeous buildings and colourful bazaars that line the maze-like streets.

-Get fit at home, then travel to Mount Kilimanjaro National Park and attempt a hike up Africa's highest summit.

Getting to Tanzania

Cheap flights to Tanzania are available from a variety of British, European and Middle Eastern destinations. The flight to Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam takes about 10 hours from major British airports. American travellers will have to book an indirect flight to Tanzania from the US, usually stopping over in London or Amsterdam.

Read

The Book of Secrets by MG Vassanji, The Snows of Mount Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway, Great Sky Woman by Steven Barnes, and Shout at the Devil by Wilbur Smith.

Watch

The African Queen (1951) and Darwin's Nightmare (2004).

Eat

Mtori (cooked beef, prepared with bananas), mchicha (a vegetable-based stew with meat or fish added to it), and ugali (a polenta-style side dish made from corn flour).

Drink

Konyagi, an alcoholic beverage somewhere between gin and vodka.

What to buy

Beaded African jewellery, carved soapstone figurines, Masai blankets and Tingatinga artworks.

What to pack

Pack sunscreen, lightweight clothing, after-sun lotion and effective insect repellent for a holiday in Tanzania. Remember that Tanzania is a predominately Muslim country, and that modest dress is required (no matter the heat). If you're planning to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, don't make the mistake of starting the hike in brand-new shoes.

What's on in Tanzania

The TanzaCat Catamaran Regatta (September) is popular among sailing enthusiasts, with thousands of foreign visitors making their way to Dar es Salaam's Msasani Bay. Mafia Dance (August), held on Mafia Island, is east Africa's biggest electronic dance music festival - offering 14 days of pumping tunes in an idyllic beach setting.

Did you know?

-The Great African Rift Valley, one of Tanzania's chief geological features, is visible from space.

-The name Tanzania is a portmanteau of Tanganyika and Zanzibar.

-The coconut crab, found on Zanzibar, is the largest crab in the world.

A final word

A land overflowing with natural sights and wonders, Tanzania offers visitors a selection of unforgettable holiday experiences ranging from the swaying coconut palms of a Zanzibar beach to action-packed wildebeest migrations on a Serengeti safari.

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South Africa Travel Guide

In a few words From a turbulent history, South Africa has emerged in the last several decades as a leading nation in both Africa and the world. Since the end of Apartheid and the establishment of a democratic government in the 1990s, South Africa's borders have opened to a flood of tourists who come to enjoy the country's stunning natural beauty and vibrant culture.

South Africa's sense of history is strong, and visitors have the chance to explore important historical attractions ranging from the Zululand battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town.

South Africa is one of the most diverse countries in the world: the 'Rainbow Nation' has 11 official languages, and its colourful population forms a patchwork of African, Asian and European culture. Whether browsing the Indian markets in Durban, enjoying a shisa nyama (barbecue) in Soweto, or tasting local varieties at a winery in Stellenbosch, visitors will encounter a warm welcome.

The lure of South Africa lies in its untamed wilderness, however. Home to the 'Big Five' of African wildlife (lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo and rhino), along with thousands of other species of plants and animals, big game safaris in nature reserves like Kruger and Hluhluwe National Park remain among the most popular activities in South Africa. The landscape encompasses a range of climates and terrains, including deserts, mountains, plateaus, grasslands, bush, wetlands and subtropical forests.

Best time to visit South Africa

The weather in South Africa is volatile all year long, although the summer months of December to February are consistently hot and dry. The best time to visit South Africa is late spring (October and November) and early autumn (March and April) to avoid the intense heat of summer and the cold and wet winters.

Top things to see in South Africa

-Get up close with the Big Five and other wildlife in Kruger National Park.

-See Nelson Mandela's former cell at Robben Island Prison.

-Ride the rollercoasters and try your luck at the casino in Gold Reef City.

-Take a township tour through Soweto and Alexandra.

-Have a drink in the sunshine on Durban's Golden Mile.

Top things to do

-Go scuba diving in Sodwana Bay.

-Ride a cable car to the top of Table Mountain for spectacular views of Cape Town.

-Go wine tasting in the vineyards in Stellenbosch and the Cape Winelands.

-Learn to surf in Coffee Bay.

-Face your fears and go shark-cage-diving in Gansbaai.

Getting to South Africa

Direct flights to South Africa from the US are gruellingly long, and are generally available from Atlanta, New York, and Washington DC. Flights to South Africa from the UK and Europe are more plentiful. Unfortunately, because of the long distance from both Europe and North America, flights to South Africa are rarely cheap. Most flights to South Africa land at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, but there are some direct flights to Cape Town from Europe.

Read

Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog, The Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, and Ways of Dying by Zakes Mda.

Listen

Freshlyground, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Hugh Masekela, and Miriam Makeba.

Watch

Invictus (2009), Amandla: Revolution in Four-Part Harmony (2002), Safe House (2012) and District 9 (2009).

Drink

South African wine from the Cape Winelands, locally-produced beer like Jack Black and Mitchell's.

Eat

Cape Malay curries, boerewors, or a typical Durban 'bunny chow'.

What to buy

Ndebele beaded jewellery, wooden and soapstone carvings.

What to pack

Pack malaria tablets if you're heading to Kruger, and lots of insect repellent.

What's on in South Africa

The Hermanus Whale Festival celebrates the arrival of dozens of humpback whales each spring. The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown hosts the best music, art, theatre and comedy from around South Africa in July. The world-famous Comrades Marathon is run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg every year in May.

Did you know?

The only street in the world to house two Nobel Peace prizewinners is in Soweto. Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu both have houses on Vilakazi Street in Soweto.

A final word

The culturally and environmentally diverse landscape of South Africa is the ultimate holiday destination for adventurous travellers.

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Southwest Kunming © babasteve

China Travel Guide

After years of hiding from western eyes, China has transformed itself into a true heavyweight on the global tourism scales. Welcoming nearly 56 million visitors each year, China is by a long way the most-visited country in Asia - and, according to statisticians, might eclipse France as the world's most popular tourist destination by the year 2020.

China is also one of the most ancient civilisations on earth, the historical home of neolithic structures, the Silk Road, and more than 2,000 years of Dynastic reign - and its long and proud cultural heritage is reflected by the fact that the country is home to no fewer than 41 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are more 'must-see' cultural attractions in China than you could ever hope to experience in a single visit, including fascinating sights like the Summer Palace, the Stone Forest and the Beijing National Stadium.

Tourists to China looking to explore some of its incredible natural bounty will be blown away by her Five Sacred Mountains; while the Jiuzhaigou Valley is an astonishing example of the varied nature of China's landscape, a natural wonderland filled with snow-capped mountain peaks, crystal-blue lakes, cascading waterfalls and lush vegetation.

An enigmatic, mysterious country - where modernity and tradition, progress and conservatism co-exist in a seething morass - China is one of those countries where tourists are likely to return home filled with a far greater sense of the inexhaustible variety of life, and a renewed appreciation for the many walks of life this planet has to offer.

Best time to visit China

Due to its enormous size, deciding on the best time of year to visit China will depend largely on the areas you wish to explore. In general, however, spring (April to May) and autumn (September and October) are probably the best months to visit China, as temperatures are mild, there is not too much rain, and you'll be avoiding the peak tourist season (which is in summer, from June to August).

Top things to see in China

- The Imperial Palace (or Forbidden City) is the best-preserved ancient structure in the whole of China.

- Every visitor to China should see the famous Terra Cotta Warriors of Xi'an.

- The Potala Palace, once the residence of the Dalai Lama, is a wonderful window in to the richness of Tibetan culture.

- The Leshan Giant Buddha, carved out of a cliff-face at the confluence of two rivers, is nearly 1,300 years old.

Top things to do in China

- Join the thousands of annual cultural pilgrims for a walk along a section of the Great Wall of China.

- Visit China's most famous animal at the Chengdu Panda Center.

- Experience the juxtaposition of old and new Shanghai by walking along The Bund.

- Take a trip to the fringes of the Gobi Desert and check out the Mogao Caves.

Getting to China

There are cheap direct and indirect flights to China available from the United Kingdom and the United States. The most popular entry-points into China are Beijing (Beijing International Airport) and Shanghai (Pudong International Airport).

Read

Rice: A Novel by Tong Su, Empress Orchid by Anchee Min, Iron and Silk by Mark Saltzman, and The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Listen

Cui Jian, Rynn Lim, Andy Lau, and Wang Lee Hom

Watch

The Painted Veil (2006), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Hero (2002), and The Inn of the 6th Happiness (1958)

Drink

Sample as many tea (cha) variations as possible. If you're looking for something a bit stronger, rice wine (jiuniang) is worth a try.

Eat

Duck (kaoya) is generally a favourite among westerners, as are chive dumplings (jiucai jiaozi).

What to buy

Porcelain products and jade jewellery make for very popular gifts.

What to pack

If travelling in spring or summer, be sure to take a lightweight rain slicker along; if travelling in autumn or winter, make sure you pack a good coat or jacket. Anti-bacterial hand soap is a great idea, helping to stave off diseases which can spread from using public toilets, or eating in local restaurants.

What's on in China

The Longqing Gorge Ice and Snow Festival is a spectacular winter celebration, featuring fun activities, ice sculptures, ice lanterns and a dazzling fireworks display. Chinese New Year is a raucous affair, with fireworks and loud music going on late into the night, especially in Beijing. The Great Wall Marathon is worth taking part in for its beautiful setting, even for the tragically unfit.

Did you know?

-One in every five people in the world is Chinese.

-Ice cream, gunpowder, cross bows, paper, kites and the compass are all Chinese inventions.

-In the 1930s and 40s, Shanghai was the only port in the world to accept Jews fleeing the Holocaust without entry permits.

A final word

A land full of mystery and wonder, where ancient history and hyper-modernity exist side-by-side, China is a challenging and deeply rewarding place to visit.

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India henna tattoo © Meanest Indian

India Travel Guide

Kaleidoscopic India continues to amaze and infuriate, inspire and dismay her visitors. A country full-enough of paradoxes and contrasts to madden anyone who tries to understand it - the best way to enjoy your holiday in India is simply to open your heart, and soak up what is surely the greatest show on earth.

The world's most populous democracy, India is also an enormous landmass, so full of interesting towns and cities and incredible remote areas that you'd really need a lifetime to explore it all. A thorough, though not rigid, pre-trip itinerary is recommended - decide what areas most appeal to you, and set yourself the modest of goal of exploring them properly. Travelling even short distances in India can be slow and exhausting, so take your time, and remember that - perhaps more so in India than anywhere else - it's the journey, and not the destination, that is all-important.

Having said that, however, India arguably boasts more world-famous attractions and activities than any other country - from the history-rich Red Fort of Old Delhi, to the glimmering Golden Temple of Amritsar, the ghats of Varanasi, the desert palaces of Rajasthan, the tranquil backwaters of Kerala, the cool alpine air of Darjeeling and, of course, the immortal Taj Mahal - visitors can anticipate more than a few awe-inspiring sights. And, true to its billing as a land of contradictions, India is equally prepared to cater for sybarites as spiritual-types - the hectic trance parties of Goa stand in stark contrast to the thousands of ashrams dotted around the country.

India is not only one of the best value-for-money tourist destinations in the world, but one which offers a totally unique, not-to-be-repeated-anywhere-else kind of travelling experience to visitors. A safe, friendly land, well-trodden by years of heavy tourist traffic, there are very few more intriguing places to travel than mad, majestic India.

Best time to visit India

The best time to visit India is during winter (November to March), when the monsoon season is over, and temperatures haven't yet reached the hellish heights of summer. Low tourist season is between April and September.

Top things to see in India

-The Taj Mahal - the world's greatest monument to love - remains India's most unforgettable sight.

-Amritsar is the spiritual homeland of Sikhism, and its Golden Temple attracts millions of visitors each year.

-Rising high above the smoky clamour of Delhi's streets, the Red Fort remains an austere and powerful reminder of the might of the Mogul Empire.

-The Ajanta Caves, 29 cave-shrines delicately carved out of the surrounding rock, represent the faiths of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.

Top things to do in India

-Spend the day relaxing on the famous beaches of Goa, before getting down to some serious partying.

-Ride the 'Toy Train' from Darjeeling to Ghum, and take in some truly breathtaking mountain scenery.

-Take a cruise on the backwaters of Kerala, where the lush tropical scenery is interrupted only by close-up glimpses of traditional village-life.

-Find yourself a guide, saddle up your camel, and head out into Rajasthan's Thar Desert for a sun-soaked safari.

Getting to India

There are cheap direct flights to India available from many airports in the United Kingdom. Direct flights to India from the United States are less common, but are available (mainly operating between New York and Delhi or Mumbai).

Read

A Passage to India by EM Forster, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, and Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.

Listen

Ravi Shankar, Asha Bhosle, Indus Creed, 'Filmi' - music from Bollywood films.

Watch

Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Monsoon Wedding (2001), Gandhi (1982), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Jodhaa Akbar (2008).

Drink

Masala chai, a delicious blend of tea and spices (cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger), boiled in a mixture of milk and water.

Eat

Curries of all kinds, and traditional mezze-like lunch-platters known as a thali.

What to buy

India is a shopper's paradise, with everything from textiles, clothing, furniture, toys, musical instruments, antiques, perfumes and comestibles available - usually at extremely reasonable prices, and of very high quality.

What to pack

Be sure to pack lightweight (but not overly-revealing) clothes; plenty of sunscreen; and a basic first-aid kit, stocked with anti-diarrhoea pills and electrolyte salts to treat dehydration. Carrying a bottle of anti-sceptic, rub-on hand soap around with you is a simple yet effective way to avoid getting sick.

What's on in India

Holi, a religious festival occurring right across India every March, is famous for the pots of coloured dye that get thrown around everywhere. Diwali, the Festival of Lights held each November, sees the Indian night-sky lit up by millions of fire-works. New Year's Eve in Goa is a wild party with thousands of keen party-goers.

Did you know?

-The Indian film industry (known as Bollywood) is by far the largest in the world, and is also the most well-supported, with three billion movie tickets being sold every year.

-India has more post offices than any other country in the world.

-The Constitution of India officially recognises 22 languages spoken in the country.

A final word

A dizzying, disorientating, but ultimately delightful place to visit, India is in many ways the ultimate tourist destination - pack light, travel slow, and prepare your heart and your mind for the adventure of a lifetime.

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Japanese cherry blossom © naitokz

Japan Travel Guide

For most people, the image of Japan is an enigmatic one, with a vague notion of geishas and samurai warriors butting up against buzzing neon arcades and frenetic TV game shows. Japan is indeed a nation of contrasts, however those who venture on a holiday in Japan will gain a greater understanding of the unique culture and traditions of this beautiful country.

Japan's major cities (Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka) appear on the surface to be westernised, but visitors quickly realise that the sleek modern culture of Japan is expertly blended with millennia of tradition, evident in the Buddhist and Shinto temples sprinkled throughout the urban centres, intricate social rituals for eating and greeting, and other small reminders of Japan's long and proud history.

Once out of the cities, visitors can explore a different side of Japan, climbing one of the country's 200 mountains, soaking in secluded hot springs, visiting ancient shrines and castles, or attending a sumo match.

Whether it's for skiing in the winter, viewing the cherry blossoms in spring, or enjoying the sunshine of late summer, a holiday in Japan is a rewarding adventure for all.

Best time to visit Japan

April is considered the best time to visit Japan, because of the likelihood of the cherry blossoms being in bloom. Otherwise, the weather in Japan varies dramatically from the north to the south, with the rainy season generally lasting from June to early August. September can be typhoon season, however October and November tend to be a good time to travel to Japan, as the weather is mild and pleasant.

Top things to see in Japan

-Stroll the spectacular grounds of the Tokyo Imperial Palace.

-Spot traditionally-dressed geisha in the Kyoto district of Gion.

-Hike Mount Fuji for stunning panoramic views.

-See a traditional Kabuki play at the Minamiza Theatre in Kyoto.

Top things to do

-Sing your heart out in a Tokyo karaoke bar.

-Relax in the hot springs of Noboribetsu on Hokkaido.

-Follow the 88 Temples Pilgrimage Circuit around Shikoku.

-Spend a weekend skiing the slopes of Furano in the Japanese Alps.

Getting to Japan

There are a few direct flights to Japan from the UK, mostly from London, but they don't tend to be cheap. Likewise, direct flights to Japan from the US tend to be pricey and depart from cities on the west coast like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

Read

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, and A Year in Japan by Kate T. Williamson.

Listen

O-Daiko (Kodo), Kodo (Yoshida Brothers), and I'm Blue (The 5678's).

Watch

Lost in Translation (2003), Kikujiro (1999), and The Last Samurai (2003).

Drink

Sake (Japanese rice wine)

Eat

Sushi

What to buy

Cloissane and lacquerware, or silk kimonos.

What to pack

Slip-on shoes. Japanese temples, museums, private homes and even some restaurants will require that you take your shoes off before entering, so having non-lacing shoes will save a lot of time and effort.

What's on in Japan

Tokyo turns pink each spring during the Cherry Blossom Festival. See fantastical sculptures at the Sapporo Snow Festival in February. Watch giants face off at Osaka's Sumo Spring Grand Tournament.

Did you know?

It is common in Japan to eat rice at every meal, including breakfast.

A final word

A holiday in Japan combines the best of both ancient and modern attractions, and makes this enigmatic country a delight to explore.

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Royal Grand Palace, Bangkok © Thailand Tourist Board

Thailand Travel Guide

The most well-known and popular travel destination in Southeast Asia, the lure of Thailand is felt by millions of tourists each year. Enticed by the sparkling beaches of the islands in the south, the enigmatic temples and hill-tribes of the north, and the neon lights of Bangkok in between, exotic Thailand has something for every traveller.

A great value-for-money holiday destination, Thailand is a favourite with both budget travellers and determined shoppers, who come to spend their baht at either the electronics shops or bars of Bangkok.

But once out of the infamous capital, the natural splendour of Thailand really shines. The limestone karst rock formations and lush rainforests of Khao Sok National Park and other nature reserves are popular spots for jungle trekking, and the crystal-clear waters around the southern islands like Phuket and Koh Pha Ngan are a paradise for scuba diving and watersports. Many travellers venture north to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai to see the many beautiful temples and the famous Hill-Tribes, and the more adventurous stray off the beaten path to Isaan.

Thailand's strong and unique culture is just as big an attraction however; hundreds of visually-stunning Buddhist temples and shrines are scattered across cities and villages, and visitors can tour the ruins of ancient cities like Ayutthaya to get a sense of the country's long history. No matter what part of the country you visit however, a holiday in Thailand is an experience to be remembered for a lifetime.

Best time to visit Thailand

The weather in Thailand is divided into three seasons: the cool season (November to February), the hot season (March to May) and the rainy season (June to October). The cool season is usually considered the best time to visit Thailand, as it has the most sunshine and least rain. However, the December holidays tend to be busy and the prices inflated, so the overall best months to visit Thailand are January and February.

Top things to see in Thailand

-See the enormous golden statues at the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

-Take in a Muay Thai match in Bangkok.

-Visit the many Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai.

-Tour the remains of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, ancient seats of Siamese culture.

Top things to do

-Ride a boat through the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.

-Laze on the sunny beaches on Phuket.

-Indulge in the infamous nightlife of Bangkok.

-Take a hike to the Lisu Hill-Tribe. Read more about Thailand Activities.

Holiday resorts in Thailand

Thailand has many popular resorts for sun-seekers looking for the perfect beach holiday. Each resort has its own character, varying from lively nightlife to laidback and secluded, from single's heaven to family-friendly holiday.

Getting to Thailand

Getting to Thailand is fairly easy. There are direct flights to Thailand from the UK, however there are many more options with stopovers. The only direct flights to Thailand from the US depart from Los Angeles. Nearly all flights to Thailand arrive at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.

Read

Thai Girl by Andrew Hicks and Bangkok People by James Eckardt.

Listen

Pumpuang Duangjan and Khruang Sai Orchestra.

Watch

The Beach (2000), Brokedown Palace (1999), The Hangover 2 (2011), and Anna and the King (1999).

Drink

Satho (traditional rice wine).

Eat

Khao phat (Thai-style fried rice).

What to buy

Thai silk, precious stones, and cheap electronics.

What to pack

A padlock for your bags: leaving backpacks in hotel rooms and outside temples gives pickpockets a good opportunity to help themselves.

What's on in Thailand

The colourful Bor Sang Umbrella Festival celebrates traditional craftsmanship each January. Thailand celebrates New Year in April at Songkran. Floating candles and hot air balloons make Loy Krathong the most romantic day in November.

Did you know?

-Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that wasn't colonized by a Western power.

-The official ceremonial name of Bangkok is Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.

-Popular energy drink Red Bull originated in Thailand and was originally called Red Guar.

A final word

Exotic and enticing, a holiday in Thailand is an unforgettable experience, promising both stunning cultural sights and a bit of fun and relaxation.

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Rice planting © Judith Duk

Vietnam Travel Guide

Verdant patchworks of rice paddies, pointed lampshade-style hats, a country ravaged by war, and economic repression - these are the international images of Vietnam, seen on worldwide television and read about in the newspapers. But there are other scenes to be found, ones of natural beauty, ethnic culture, and imperial history, of timeless traditional villages, idyllic sea resorts and dynamic cities.

Shaped like an elongated 'S', Vietnam stretches along the east coast of the Indochinese Peninsula and is likened by its people to a long bamboo pole hung with two baskets of rice, represented by the two fertile regions at either end of the country. Between the lush Red River Delta and the highlands in the north, known for their magnificent scenery and colourful hill tribes, and the agricultural plains and floating markets of the Mekong Delta in the south, lie miles of white sandy beaches, towering mountains, rivers and dense forests, and the thousands of bizarre rock and cave formations on the islands of Halong Bay.

The impact of Japanese and Chinese trade, French occupation and American intervention has left its stain on Vietnam, smeared over a period of more than two thousand years of recorded history. However, the country has also been left with a vivid legacy from different cultures evident in the character of its towns, as well as in the architecture and food. The quaint town of Hoi An, once a major trading port, boasts the perfectly preserved architectural influences of the Asian merchants from the north, while the broad leafy boulevards of the capital Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are reminiscent of France. Menus offer Chinese variations of spring rolls, steamed dumplings and noodles. Hué is the old imperial capital of Vietnam with its royal palaces and palatial mausoleums, and nearby the battle sites of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) are reminders of the brutality of war.

Ancient temples and colourful pagodas are scattered throughout the urban centres, while among them stand hotels of modern luxury, and the development of tourism infrastructure is a booming business. Vietnam is a perfect balance between ancient times and the here and now, a country that reveres its past heroes, a nation that has collectively put the woes of war behind it, and people who welcome visitors to their country with open arms and friendly smiles.

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Iconically Australia © Karl Blackwell

Australia Travel Guide

While modern-day Australia might have started life as a British prison colony, it has evolved into one of the world's premier tourist destinations. Visitors to Australia will delight in its exciting, cosmopolitan cities, fantastic weather and famously beautiful coastline, as well as the friendly nature of the locals that they encounter.

Australia - a country and continent in one - is the world's sixth-largest nation by land area, and perhaps unsurprisingly, has a wealth of natural attractions begging to be explored. From the monolithic rock at Uluru; to the wild, untamed and unforgiving Outback; to the colourful wonder of the Great Barrier Reef off Queensland's sun-soaked Gold Coast, Australia possesses some unique and unforgettable sights. Active types will love Australia's 'outdoors culture', and a huge array of sports and activities - including swimming, diving, snorkelling, surfing, bush walking, hiking, mountain biking and even skiing - are readily available for you to try your hand at.

For those who prefer to keep their holidays urban, Australia's cities will certainly not disappoint. Clean, cosmopolitan and youthful, Australia's urban centres (such as Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne) are world-class. Famous cultural attractions in Australia include the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, the Australian Museum and the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Australia also boasts an impressive and fast-moving restaurant culture, guaranteed to satisfy even the fussiest gastronomes.

Whether you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing in Australia, or you plan to spend most of your time relaxing on the great beaches and sampling some of the local beer (of which there are many brands), you are bound to have a splendid time in the Land Down Under.

Best time to visit Australia

Due to the mild, temperate climate of Australia, there is really no bad time to visit - even in mid-winter (June), the mercury regularly climbs to 68°F (20°C). However, the best time to visit Australia is definitely during the summer (December to March), as not only is the weather is sublimely hot and sunny, more events and festivals take place, and a generally more festive atmosphere fills the streets.

Top things to see in Australia

-The Sydney Opera House is an iconic triumph of architectural design, and boasts a top-quality programme of shows and events.

-The Australian Museum is a fascinating place to visit, and caters wonderfully for kids.

-Embark on the adventure of a lifetime, and travel into the Outback to see Uluru (formerly known as Ayer's Rock) a giant monolithic rock, considered sacred by Australia's Aboriginal population.

-Tasmania's Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), opened by millionaire private collector David Walsh, is causing quite a stir in the art-world.

Top things to do in Australia

-Get your snorkel gear out, and go see the Great Barrier Reef up close. The beauty of the brightly-coloured coral reef, the largest living organism in the world, will not soon be forgotten.

-Swim, learn to surf, or else just chill out on Queensland's Gold Coast - home to some of the very best beaches in the world.

-See a cricket match at one of the country's legendary stadia (the Melbourne Cricket Ground is highly recommended).

-Take an early morning hot-air balloon ride over the Australian Outback, and marvel at the beauty of the severe and sparse expanse, stretching in every direction with no sign of human settlement.

Getting to Australia

There are cheap direct and indirect flights to Australia available from the United Kingdom and the United States. The most popular entry-points into Australia are Melbourne-Tullamarine Airport and Sydney Airport.

Read

Voss by Patrick White, Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey, In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson, and Red Dog by Louis de Bernières.

Listen

Kylie Minogue, Nick Cave, and AC/DC.

Watch

Shine (1996), The Castle (1997), The Adventures Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), Australia (2008), and Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002).

Drink

Local beer like Fosters, Victoria Bitter, Tooheys and XXXX (pronounced 'four ex').

Eat

Vegemite on toast.

What to buy

Great souvenirs to buy in Australia include boomerangs, beer cosys, wine and Aboriginal folk-art.

What to pack

Be sure to pack a swimming costume, plenty of sunscreen, lightweight clothing (if travelling in summer), and at least one pair of good walking shoes, as you are sure to want to explore the country's wonderful natural surroundings.

What's on in Australia

The Sydney Film Festival, one of the longest-running and most revered film festivals on the planet, takes place each year in June. The Big Day Out rock concert series, with shows in all of Australia's major cities, ensures that summertime in Australia is a hip and happening affair. The Melbourne International Arts Festival (October) boasts a fantastic programme of (mainly free) dance, theatre, music, opera and visual arts performances. Australia Day (26th of January) is celebrated with tremendous gusto right across the country.

Did you know?

-Australia is one of the least densely populated countries on earth, with about 2.6 people for every square kilometre.

-Per capita, Australians read more newspapers than any other nation.

A final word

With cosmopolitan cities spread across the vast unforgiving bush and a lively and welcoming population, Australia is a fascinating travel destination for just about anyone.

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Nature's fire © Cook Islands Tourism

Cook Island

The 15 Cook Islands are scattered across the south Pacific over about 772,204 square miles (2 million sq km), an area the size of India. These unspoilt Polynesian tropical gems have a combined population of an average country town: about 14,000 unique and friendly souls. Most Cook Islanders dwell on the capital island of Rarotonga, which is also where most of the 70,000-odd annual visitors stop off, arriving at the island's international airport.

Circular Rarotonga is almost completely enclosed by a reef, harbouring a lagoon of clear turquoise water and white sandy beaches. The small island is dominated by a high mountain peak from where lush rain forests cascade down to the palm-fringed shore. The commercial centre of the islands is the friendly, bustling town of Avarua on Rarotonga, which has banks, shops and tourist facilities as well as a busy port and yacht basin. The outer islands are becoming increasingly popular for excursions, but remain largely unspoiled by tourism.

The Cook Islanders have their own language and government, and enjoy a vigorous and diverse culture with significant differences between each island. Even if you go no further than Rarotonga, though, you will be ensured of a dream 'South Seas' holiday experience on the pristine beaches, snorkelling the reef, or exploring the island by bus, motor scooter, bicycle or jeep.

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Tropical paradise © Fiji Tourism

Fiji

One of the world's more exotic destinations, Fiji is a tropical paradise in the South Pacific made up of 322 islands nearly two thousand miles (3,219km) east of Australia. Once feared as the haunt of cannibals and fierce warrior tribes, today Fiji is regarded as being inhabited by supremely friendly and welcoming people who are full of the joy of life and consider it rude to rush. It has been said that Fiji is where people wear flowers in their hair not to impress, but simply because they like to.

Flowers there are aplenty blooming on these scenic, lush islands where the sun shines every day and orchids hang over waterfalls that plunge into jungle pools behind palm-fringed beaches. Visitors here can swim with manta rays, snorkel over coral gardens, scuba dive on the famous Astrolabe Reef, or ride the amazing 20ft (6m) waves known as the 'Cloud Breakers' off Tavarua.

The Fiji archipelago is the hub of the South Pacific with more than 85 flights a week landing at Nadi airport on the main island of Viti Levu. From there it is easy to access the offshore island resorts or the other large islands of Vanua Levu or Taveuni. Viti Levu has several large towns and the bustling capital of Suva, which is a shopper's paradise and offers an upbeat nightlife.

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Urupukapuka Island, Bay of Islands, North Island © New Zealand Tourist Board

New Zealand Travel Guide

Though the island nation is geographically small, the sweeping landscapes seem immense to awestruck visitors taking in the jagged mountain peaks, rolling hills, sparkling beaches, scenic fjords, raging rivers and pristine lakes that make up the stunning scenery of New Zealand.

New Zealand is an adventures paradise, with opportunities to try activities like scuba diving, hot air ballooning, rock climbing, and other extreme sports; especially in adrenaline-packed Queenstown, the 'extreme sport capital of the world'.

Yet the urban life and culture of New Zealand is just as fascinating, with the traditions of both Maori warriors and British settlers playing a part in everyday life. Major cities like Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington have excellent restaurants and nightlife to entertain the most determined partiers, and fascinating museums and cultural attractions to satiate the NZ$19 billion tourism economy.

Located seemingly at the end of the world, the long flight to New Zealand is off-putting for many travellers, however the rich rewards of a holiday spent in the 'land of the long white cloud' are immeasurable.

Best time to visit New Zealand

The weather in New Zealand is fairly temperate all year round, though the south of the country gets cold in the winter. The western sides of the islands tend to be very rainy, while the eastern parts are shielded from ocean winds by the mountain ranges. Most locals and overseas tourists take a New Zealand holiday in December, January and February, crowding most beach destinations. The best time to visit New Zealand is in spring (September to November) and autumn (March to May) when the temperatures are moderate.

Top things to do

-Go kayaking in Milford Sound.

-Try extreme sports like bungy jumping, white-water rafting and paragliding in Queenstown.

-Go hiking on the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers.

-Scuba dive in the coves of the Bay of Islands.

Getting to New Zealand

Direct flights to New Zealand are impossible to find from the UK or the US, but connecting flights with stopovers in Bangkok, Singapore or Dubai are common from the UK; US flights to New Zealand usually stop in Hawaii.

Read

Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff.

Listen

E Ipo (Prince Tui Teko) and Settle Down (Kimbra).

Watch

Whalerider (2002) and Eagle vs Shark (2007).

Drink

New Zealand wine.

Eat

HÄngi (meat cooked over heated rocks).

What to buy

Maori arts and crafts, carved jade and greenstone.

What to pack

Comfortable hiking boots; New Zealand's terrain can be challenging.

What's on in New Zealand

The Pasifika Festival celebrates Polynesian art and culture each spring. Chinese New Year is the inspiration for the fiery Auckland Lantern Festival. Indigenous blooms take centre stage at the prestigious Ellerslie Flower Show in March.

Did you know?

-Wellington is the most southerly national capital in the world.

-To become a New Zealand citizen, you must swear an oath of loyalty to Queen Elizabeth.

A final word

New Zealand's rustic blend of Western and Polynesian culture combines with its stunning scenery to attract travellers to the end of the world.

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Flower leis and heis © Tahiti Tourisme

Tahiti and French Polynesia Travel Guide

Captivating Tahiti and her 118 attendant islands and atolls, all radiant with iridescent green and turquoise, make up the country of French Polynesia, a French overseas territory that is spread across an area of the South Pacific that is as big as western Europe.

The earliest explorers thought they had found paradise on earth when they came across these picture-perfect islands, and today's travellers are no less entranced by the volcanic mountain peaks clothed in lush tropical vegetation and exotic flowering plants, the coral reefs, warm waters, white sand beaches and stunning turquoise lagoons. Add to this the warm hospitality offered by the friendly locals, a collection of world-class resorts, spas, fine restaurants, nightclubs, vibrant markets and enticing boutiques, and one would imagine the islands would be over-run with exuberant vacationers. It is surprising then, to discover that there are more hotel rooms in a typical Las Vegas hotel than on all the islands of French Polynesia, and that Hawaii receives more visitors in 10 days than Tahiti does in a year. This means it is possible to tuck a tiare (Tahiti's national fragrant white flower) behind your ear, pack your pareu (sarong) and swimsuit, and head off to find your own idyllic piece of Polynesian paradise, which will doubtless have a melodic ancient name meaning something like 'island of the long sky' or 'place of the double rainbow'.

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King's College, Cambridge ©

England Travel Guide

The lifeblood of the British Empire, Great Britain, the United Kingdom (or whatever you choose to call it), has always been England. A tiny country in comparison to the United States or even France, it's nevertheless had a huge impact on the history of the world.

All the regions of England are easily accessible from the invigorating capital city of London, famous for its history, culture and pageantry. In England's North Country, lakes, mountains, castles and craggy coastlines create a scenic splendour; while further south, the medieval city of York contrasts with lively Liverpool and Manchester, both famous for their football teams, live music scenes and exhausting nightlife.

Visitors travelling south of London will discover a quieter England, where a tranquil air blows through country lanes or across shimmering fens, while the gleaming spires of Oxford stand proudly above a university town that's changed little over the centuries. South of London, the 'Garden of England' stretches out with bountiful farmlands to the coast, where visitors will find charming seaside resorts and fishing villages. From the Cotswolds to the craggy coast of Cornwall, the West Country offers an idyllic pastoral experience, with charming thatched cottages and winding roads through lush, green fields.

With its pomp and pageantry, wonderful idiosyncrasies and vibrant diversity, today's England is friendly, welcoming, fascinating and fun.

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Paris, France © Panoramas

France Travel Guide

There isn't a single travel destination that has the romantic pull of France. Idealised by millions all over the world, thoughts of France involve champagne on the Eiffel Tower, cruises on the Seine, bicycling through wine country and exploring the resorts of the Côte d'Azur.

A holiday in France offers a wide variety of attractions for all travellers, whether interested in culture and history or just having a good time. While Paris is famous for its sophistication, there are more than 40,000 castles and chateaus dotting the countryside, dozens of ski resorts in the French Alps, holiday towns along the coast and countless cities and villages hidden around every hill providing never-ending opportunities to explore for millions of tourists each year.

French culture is known for its effortless sophistication, including the gastronomic delights of French cuisine, museums dedicated to centuries of French art, and the sought-after haute couture creations of French fashion designers. Whether looking for a city break in Paris or exploring the lesser-known delights of Alsace-Lorraine, a holiday in France is the dream vacation for many.

Best time to visit France

The weather in France has four distinct seasons, so the best time to visit France is in late spring and early autumn to avoid the intense heat of summer and harshly cold winters. May, June and September are the best times for a holiday in France.

Top things to see in France

-See the Mona Lisa and other famous works of art at the Louvre gallery in Paris.

-Spot celebrities at Cannes.

-Stroll through the gardens of the magnificent Palace of Versailles.

-Browse the luxury fashion boutiques on Paris' Champs-Elysées.

Top things to do in France

-Go skiing at resorts like Tignes and Serre-Chevalier in the French Alps.

-Take a guided tour of the Moët et Chandon cellars in Epernay.

-Have dinner at the Jules Verne restaurant in the Eiffel Tower.

-Treat the kids to a day at Disneyland Paris.

-Party in the nightclubs of St Tropez.

Getting to France

Getting to France is easy from most Western countries. There are many direct flights to France from the US, nearly all of which land in one of the Paris airports. There are dozens of cheap flights to France from the UK as well, and direct trains from London to Paris.

Read

Hotel Pastis by Peter Mayle, Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris, and Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

Listen

Non, Je ne regrette rien (Edith Piaf) and Si tu n'étais pas là (Fréhel).

Watch

La Vie en Rose (2007), Amelie (2001), and Midnight in Paris (2011).

Drink

French wine and champagne.

Eat

Croissants, macaroons.

What to buy

French wine and Parisian fashion.

What to pack

A French phrasebook. Many French outside of Paris don't speak English, and a little French will smooth your way even in the capital.

What's on in France

Hollywood stars launch their newest movies at the Cannes Film Festival every May. The 2,000-mile (3,500km) Tour de France bicycle race comes to an exciting conclusion in Paris each summer. The larger-than-life puppets of the Festival of Giants parade through the village of Douai each July.

Did you know?

On average, two new cookbooks are published every day in France.

A final word

High fashion, delicious food, and an overwhelming sense of romance make France one of the most popular travel destinations in the world.

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Parthenon, Athens © GNTO

Greece Travel Guide

Greece has captured the world's imagination with its ancient culture and fantastical myths. Visions of vengeful gods and goddesses, massive armies led by generals riding in chariots, and great philosophers discussing ground-breaking ideas dance in the heads of the millions of tourists who flock to the country each year to visit world-famous sites like the Parthenon in Athens, the Acropolis of Rhodes, the churches of Thessaloniki, and the Oracle of Delphi.

A holiday to Greece isn't all about the past, however, as the region's warm weather gives it an ideal climate for a holiday on the beach. Greek islands like Santorini, Crete, Mykonos and Corfu are popular cruise destinations in the Mediterranean, taking advantage of the roughly 200 days of sunshine each year for tourists to enjoy their pebbled beaches, seaside tavernas and lively nightlife.

Tourists can venture beyond the basic Greek salad to enjoy meze staples like saganaki (fried haloumi cheese), kleftiko (lamb slow-baked on the bone), and souvlaki (shaved pork wrapped in a pita). No holiday in Greece is complete without a taste of the local spirits, and the friendly and voluble locals are always ready to welcome visitors for an unforgettable experience in the 'birthplace of civilisation'.

Best time to visit Greece

The best time to visit Greece is the summer (June to August) when the weather is beautiful and sun is guaranteed. Visitors should note that this is by far the most popular time for a holiday in Greece, and the crowds will be at their peak, however Greece is not a winter sun destination.

Top things to see in Greece

- Spend a few days marvelling at the ruins of the Parthenon and the Acropolis in Athens, and wandering through the archaeological museums nearby.

- You can visit the site of the first Olympic Games in 776 BC, where there are still ruins of arenas, gymnasiums and changing rooms.

- See the tomb of King Leonidas in Sparta, along with other relics of the famous warriors of the Peloponnese Peninsula.

- The Cave of the Apocalypse on Patmos is where the Apostle John is said to have written the Book of Revelation.

Top things to do in Greece

- Take a cruise to Crete and sun on the beaches in Hania, Heraklion, and Agios Nikolaos.

- Follow the trail of Homer's Odyssey with a visit to Ithaca, and enjoy the lively village of Vathy.

- Let loose in the trendy tavernas and nightclubs of Mykonos.

- Sample mezze platters and other Greek delicacies in some of Athens' restaurants.

- Watch a stunning sunset off the coast of Santorini.

Holiday resorts in Greece

Greece has many popular resorts for sun-seekers looking for the perfect beach holiday. Each resort has its own character, varying from lively nightlife, to laid-back and secluded; from single's heaven to family friendly holiday.

Getting to Greece

There are direct cheap flights to Athens and Rhodes from many UK airports. Direct flights to Greece from the US are harder to find, but there are many connecting options.

Read

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, The Odyssey by Homer, and Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières.

Watch

Shirley Valentine (1989), Agora (2009), and My Life in Ruins (2009).

Drink

Ouzo

What to buy

Greek wine and products made from olive oil or olive wood. Ouzo and Metaxxa brandy. Remember that it is illegal to take historical artefacts out of Greece!

What to pack

A swimming costume for the islands, sturdy hiking shoes for the ruins, and plenty of sunblock no matter where you go.

What's on in Greece

-The best in Greek music and culture is showcased each August at the Athens Festival.
-The Lycabettus Hill Festival hosts contemporary music and dance all summer long in Athens.
-The Traditional Greek Dance Festival is held in Athens each year for a weekend in July.

Did you know?

Greece has more archaeological museums than any other country in the world.

A final word

Sunny beaches and sparkling seas collide with the rich history of a 3,000-year-old civilisation to create the ultimate holiday destination.

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Italy, the best of both worlds © PhotoLab XL

Italy Travel Guide

Italy, the historical centre of the Roman Empire, boasts more cultural sights and attractions than you could ever hope to see in a single visit. In fact, Italy lays claims to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country in the world (47 in total), and most of these awe-inspiring sights - often rather casually located amidst the hustle and bustle of modern city-life - are essential to an understanding of contemporary western civilisation. From the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to the intricate Gothic architecture of Cathedral Square, to the almost obscene wealth of artwork housed in the galleries of Tuscany, a holiday in Italy is nothing short of a compulsory experience.

Of course, Italy's culture does not only belong in the past - the country remains on the cutting-edge of haute couture, and watching the famously stylish locals clip along cobblestoned streets in six-inch stiletto heels is almost a tourist attraction in itself. Shopaholics will feel as though they've found paradise, browsing the boutique stores of Milan's Fashion Quadrilatero; while gastronomes should prepare themselves for a holiday punctuated by unforgettable meals. The world-famous Italian cuisine is, naturally, even more delicious, the flavours more sophisticated, when prepared in its homeland - and visitors to Italy can look forward to trying interesting regional variations of their favourite pizza and pasta dishes.

Whether you opt for a holiday in Venice, where the songs of gondoliers are carried on the evening breeze; or you choose to relax on the staggering Amalfi coastline; or you find yourself in Verona, sipping an espresso in a crowded piazza while the sun sinks behind a skyline of Gothic spires, one thing's for sure, your holiday in Italy will be an experience you won't soon forget.

Best time to visit Italy

Most people visit Italy in summer, between June and August; however, the best times to visit Italy are in spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October), when the weather is cool and dry, the skies are generally clear, and - since there are fewer tourists around - accommodation is usually cheaper. The sea is warm enough for swimming between June and September. Most Italians take their vacation in August, and many shops and restaurants are closed during this period. The ski season runs from December to April, and the best time to go hiking in the Alps is between June and September.

Top things to see in Italy

-Visit the Colosseum, the ancient site of Roman pageantry and gladiatorial combat in Rome.

-Stand in the shadow of Milan's awe-inspiring Duomo (Cathedral), the world's most grandiose example of Gothic architecture.

-Join the hordes exploring the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii, and come face-to-face with the 'frozen people' from the catastrophic eruption 2,000 years ago.

-Visit the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and be blown away by one of the finest collections of art on the planet.

Top things to do in Italy

-Stand with your back to the Trevi Fountain, and flick a coin over your shoulder into its famous waters - legend has it that this will guarantee you a return visit to Rome one day!

-Tour the museums of Vatican City, and marvel at the famous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

-Take a ride on one of Venice's gondolas, and let your gondolier serenade you while you float through the waterways of the legendary city.

-Drive through the gorgeous Chianti Region, sampling some of the country's finest wines and olive oils as you go.

Getting to Italy

There are cheap direct and indirect flights to Italy available from the UK and the US. The most popular entry-points into Italy are Rome (Leonardo da Vinci Airport), Milan (Malpensa Airport) and Venice (Marco Polo Airport).

Read

Italian Neighbours by Tim Parks, The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, and Italian Hours by Henry James.

Listen

Andrea Bocelli, Lucio Battisti, Zucchero, and Laura Pausini.

Watch

Cinema Paradiso (1988), La Dolce Vita (1960), Il Postino (1994), and Roman Holiday (1953).

Drink

Sample some of the Chianti Region's world-famous wines.

Eat

Try regional variations of your favourite pasta dishes (such as cuttlefish-ink-based pasta sauces in Venice) - and of course, it is mandatory to eat pizza in Naples.

What to buy

For a special trinket or a gift for a loved one back home, buy some authentic Murano glassware - you'll be purchasing something that comes from an artistic tradition dating back to the 7th Century. Olive oil, leather products and limoncello (traditional lemon-flavoured liqueur) are also popular things to buy in Italy.

What to pack

Remember that clothing is very expensive in Italy, and so you should arrive well prepared. Pack comfortable walking shoes for daytime excursions as well as stylish shoes for evenings out.

What's on in Italy

The Venice Film Festival is one of the oldest and most respected film festivals in the world, and draws hundreds of A-list celebrities. Milan Fashion Week is one of the top fashion events on the yearly calendar. For a festive Christmas season, head to Milan for the Oh Bej! celebrations, where you can eat roasted chestnuts and shop around the antique markets.

Did you know?

-When McDonald's opened in Rome (in 1986), food purists outside the restaurant gave away free spaghetti to remind people of their proud culinary heritage.

-Italy has more volcanoes than any other European nation.

-Both ice cream cones and spectacles were invented in Italy.

A final word

A country uniquely blessed with sights, attractions, great food and wine, and a lovely climate; Italy is not only the historical 'centre of the western world', but one of its most enthralling modern-day tourist destinations.

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Ibiza Town © Spanish National Tourist Board

Spain Travel Guide

If you were to ask most travellers to draw up a list of their top 10 dream holiday destinations, it would be a safe bet to suggest that Spain would feature on every single one of them. Seeing nearly 53 million visitors a year, Spain is among the most popular tourist destination in the world. Home to an unbelievable 43 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (only Italy has more), Spain also boasts a glorious array of sun-soaked beaches and resorts.

Tourists looking to enjoy a beach holiday in Spain will be spoiled for choice: the country boasts 5,000 miles (8,000km) of beaches, and many of the most popular areas - Ibiza, the Costa Blanca, Alicante, the Costa Brava and the Costa del Sol - are deservedly world-famous. An idyllic climate, friendly locals, famously vibrant nightlife and world-class shopping opportunities only add to the incredible attraction of Spain.

With so much to see and do in Spain, visitors will have a delightful time drawing up their holiday itineraries. Whether they head straight to gorgeous Barcelona to admire the architectural feats of Gehry and Gaudi, or to the capital Madrid to check out the cultural treasures of the Prado Gallery; whether they wish to go high into the Sierra Nevada mountains to do some skiing or wish to sunbathe on the warm sands of the Canary Islands, visitors to Spain are ensured a holiday that they will treasure for the rest of their lives.

Best time to visit Spain

Featuring the warmest climate on mainland Europe, there is no 'bad time' to visit Spain. The high tourist season is summer (June to August), when an amazing amount of foreign visitors flock to Spain's famed beaches. The best time to visit Spain is probably during May or October, when the weather is generally warm and sunny, and the crowds are not as intense. Budget travellers should think about a winter vacation in Spain, as airfares and accommodation prices are often offered at discount rates.

Top things to see in Spain

-The architecture of Antoni Gaudi draws thousands of visitors to Barcelona every year to buildings like the La Sagrada Familia.

-The Prado Gallery in Madrid is home to one of Europe's finest art collections, displaying works by Goya, Rubens and Murillo.

-The Moorish fortress of Alhambra, located in Granada, is an beautiful site, and an important record of Spain's multicultural history.

-A World Heritage City, Segovia is a historical sightseer's delight, featuring a gorgeous cathedral and a wonderfully preserved Roman-built aqueduct.

Top things to do in Spain

-'Going for tapas' in Spain is not merely an opportunity to have a drink and enjoy a delicious selection of finger-food, but an important part of the everyday rhythms of Spanish life.

-Test your speed and your fitness by taking part in the Running of the Bulls at Pamplona.

-Catch an exciting match in one of Spain's grand football stadiums.

-Take a trip to the Costa del Sol and soak up the glorious sunshine before cooling off with a cocktail at a chic beachside restaurant.

Holiday resorts in Spain

Spain has many popular resorts for sun-seekers looking for the perfect beach holiday. Each resort has its own character, varying from lively nightlife (Ibiza) to laidback and secluded (Los Gigantes), from single's heaven (Benidorm) to family-friendly holiday (Sa Coma).

Getting to Spain

There are ample direct cheap flights to Spain available from a variety of British and American cities. Major airlines tend to serve Madrid and Barcelona, while several low-cost carriers offer cheap flights to popular holiday destinations in the south of Spain and the Costa del Sol.

Read

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart, Travels With My Donkey by Tim Moore, and Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving.

Listen

Luis Eduardo Aute, Los Planetas, Maldita Nerea, and Nino Ricardo.

Watch

Pan's Labyrinth (2006), Jamon Jamon (1992), and Todo Sobre Mi Madre/All About My Mother (1999).

Drink

Freshly-brewed cafe and Sangria (a mix of wine, lemonade, fruit pieces and spices).

Eat

Popular tapas include chorizo sausage and tortilla de patatas (omelette with fried potato), calamares en su tinta (squid prepared in its own ink), and sepia con alioli (fried cuttlefish with garlic mayonnaise).

What to buy

Olive oil, ornately decorated Spanish fans, Flamenco music CDs, leather products, bull fighting posters and Spanish brandy from the famous Jerez region.

What to pack

Pack plenty of sunscreen and a hat if travelling in summer, and a good coat if travelling in winter. Even though Spain's climate is wonderfully temperate, it can get very cold at times during winter (especially in Madrid).

What's on in Spain

The San Fermin Festival, better known as the Running of the Bulls at Pamplona, draws huge crowds of participating tourists every year. Head to Bunol, just outside Valencia, for the annual Tomatina Tomato Fight , a fun and irreverent festival. Valencia's Las Fallas Festival , where local communities build giant puppets and then set them ablaze, provides a bonfire that will dwarf any you've seen in your life before.

Did you know?

-Spain is home to over 5,000 miles (8,000km) of beaches.

-The carving of the donkey which decorates the main gate of Barcelona's La Sagrada Familia was created from life: Gaudí was presented with the finest donkeys in Barcelona to use as his model but rejected them all in favour of an old, run-down beast of burden that belonged to a woman selling sand.

A final word

From its glittering beaches to its vibrant and cosmopolitan cities, from its medieval churches to its Colosseum-like football stadia, Spain is home to enough world-class tourist attractions to keep even the most jaded travellers enthralled and entertained.

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Burj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai © DTCM

Abu Dhabi

The brash, bold city of Abu Dhabi is a modern marvel, capital of the wealthy United Arab Emirates and headquarters of the world's richest oil operating companies. The pulsating city, with futuristic skyscrapers and wide tree-lined boulevards, is capitalising on its sophistication, amazing duty-free shopping zone, its luxury hotels and top class transport and communication infrastructure to attract tourists. They come not only for the 'retail therapy' and glitz, but also to explore the fascinating culture of the vast Abu Dhabi Emirate itself (it is the largest of the seven Emirates), with its miles of desert and interesting oases.

The city is almost an island, jutting into the Persian Gulf, with land having been reclaimed from the sea to make way for a long seafront Corniche, lined with lush gardens and gushing fountains. It is a relatively young city, the area having been first settled by nomadic tribesmen in the mid-18th century; it remained little more than a fishing village until oil was discovered in the 1950s, and the financial and trading boom began.

Today the international airport and deep water port bring in visitors from around the world, most clutching credit cards and cash, set on spending as much as possible in the enticing shopping malls and buzzing souk (market). Limousines are a common sight in the congested streets, and restaurants offering the cuisine of many nations do a roaring trade, especially along the waterfront. Shopping fever is at its height during the annual Shopping Festival held in early March. Those taking a break from modern luxury can escape to the desert for a Bedouin feast under the stars, or a camel ride through the dunes.

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Burj Al Arab Hotel, Dubai © DTCM

Dubai

Originally a small fishing settlement that became a busy port of call on the ancient trade route between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley, the emirate was rapidly transformed into an international business centre and modern tourist destination following the discovery of oil in 1966.

Today Dubai ranks as the country's foremost commercial centre, a city whose skyline is constantly being upgraded with new developments providing the infrastructure and facilities needed for a progressive society, including world-class hotels, shopping plazas and outstanding sports facilities. Dubai Creek divides the city centre into two parts: Deira on the northern side and Bur Dubai to the south and each has its fair share of souks, restaurants, hotels, shopping malls and fine mosques.

From within these high standards of luxury and convenience, visitors can experience exotic Arabia in the bustling souks or a night in a Bedouin tent with belly-dancing under the starlit desert skies, as well as a way of life that is still embedded in the Islamic traditions of an ancient land. Dubai's attraction lies in the contrast between the ultra modern and the enchantingly traditional, which gives the city a personality like no other and visitors a variety of experiences to choose from. From desert oases and unspoiled beaches, camel races and old wind towers, to top-class shopping opportunities, avant-garde architecture and the finest international cuisine, Dubai has more than enough depth to satisfy even the most seasoned of travellers.

One of the city's top attractions is its excellent shopping. As an open port with low import duties, Dubai can offer an incredible range of top brand names at cheaper prices due to the tax-free environment, and 'shopping tourists' are drawn from around the world to this paradise of malls, souks, boutiques and modern department stores selling everything from Paris fashions to Japanese electronics. The annual Shopping Festival attracts millions of tourists to the city for a shop-till-you-drop holiday.

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Dead Sea ©

Israel Travel Guide

A land so steeped in history that it can seem like a quality of the very air, Israel welcomes nearly 3.5 million annual visitors to its shores, making it one of the most popular places to visit in the Middle East. While most tourists to Israel are keen historical sightseers, eager to check out the incredible attractions found in the Old City of Jerusalem, there are plenty of other things to see and do in Israel as well.

Tel Aviv is a vibrant, modern city with a cosmopolitan atmosphere and a gorgeous, perpetually-sunny Mediterranean coastline. Tourists looking for a party can check out bustling, backpacker-heavy Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is also home to the famous Carmel Market, where shopaholics will find more than enough to satisfy their wants; as well as a host of interesting museums and art galleries.

Outdoor types will be pleased to learn that there are lots of exciting activities on offer in Israel. Diving in the Red Sea near Eilat on Israel's southern coast is considered by many to be one of the best diving experiences in the world; while Galilee is celebrated for its beautiful scenery and wide range of hiking trails and health resorts.

Of course, another huge reason for visiting Israel is its status as the centre for the major religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Followers of all three faiths make the pilgrimage to Israel each year to connect with the historical source of their religious convictions - and even non-religious tourists will find themselves awe-struck by the beauty and majesty of the churches, temples, mosques and synagogues you can lay eyes on in Israel.

Best time to visit Israel

The weather in Israel is good all year round, but the best time to visit Israel is in the months of May, June and October, when the weather is simply perfect - sunny and warm, not too hot - and there aren't too many tourists around. Note that accommodation might be a little steeper in October, as this is holiday season in Israel.

Top things to see in Israel

- Head out to the Judean Desert, and be inspired by the mountain-top fortress of Masada.

- Even for the non-religious, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a must-see tourist attraction in Israel.

- Jerusalem's sobering Yad VaShem Holocaust Memorial provides a vital memorial to the six million Jews killed during World War II.

- Make the trip to Beit She'an National Park to see the ancient ruins of a Roman theatre and Byzantine bath house.

Top things to do in Israel

- Take a trip to the Dead Sea, lie back in the water, and float effortlessly while staring up at a flawless blue sky.

- Be swept up by the sights and smells and hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv's Carmel Market.

- Visit the lovely port-city of Haifa, and take a trip to the impeccably-maintained Bahá'í Gardens.

- Head down to Eilat and snorkel with bright tropical fish swimming around the crystal-clear waters of the Red Sea.

Getting to Israel

There are cheap direct flights to Israel available from both the UK (flight time of 5 or 6 hours) and the US (between 12 and 17 hours). International flights to Israel arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, located about 25 minutes from Tel Aviv and 45 minutes from Jerusalem.

Read

Exodus by Leon Uris, The Mandelbaum Gate by Muriel Spark, and The Family Orchard by Eve Nomi.

Listen

Chava Alberstein, Arik Einstein, Ehud Banai, and Noa.

Watch

Exodus (1960), To Take a Wife (2004), Turn Left at the End of the World (2004), and Lebanon (2009).

Drink

Arak, an anise-flavoured liqueur usually served topped up with ice and water.

Eat

Falafel - small fried balls of mashed chickpeas, usually served inside a pita bread with hummus (seasoned chickpea purée), french fries, salad and tahini (sesame paste).

What to buy

Cosmetics made from mud and minerals from the Dead Sea, Israeli wine and jewellery, and Judaica trinkets such as shofars.

What to pack

Pack lightweight, comfortable clothing that isn't too revealing (especially if you're planning on visiting religious sites), and plenty of sunscreen.

What's on in Israel

The Israel Festival (May/June), held in Jerusalem, showcases opera, dance, classical music and theatrical performances by Israel's top artistic talent. The Haifa International Film Festival draws crowds in excess of 60,000 people to see more than 150 new films from both established and emerging film-makers.

Did you know?

-Israel has more museums per capita than any other country in the world.

-Israel's Dead Sea is the lowest point on land at 1,315 feet (about 400m) below sea-level.

-Israel is the only country in the world that transitioned from the 20th to 21st Centuries with a net gain in its number of trees.

A final word

A proud nation, located in a region with a formidable historical legacy, sun-soaked Israel is fast-becoming a heavyweight Middle Eastern tourist destination.

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Muscat Harbour © Galen R Frysinger

Oman

Up until just 20 or so years ago the Sultanate of Oman, the second largest country in Arabia, was secretive and reclusive, its people kept from the modern world by on oppressive ruler to the point that the gates of the capital city Muscat were closed from dusk to dawn. The surly Sultan, however, was overthrown by his British-educated son in 1970, and since then Oman has been gradually gaining confidence and wealth, catching up with the times and welcoming expatriate workers and tourists alike at Seeb International Airport.

Oman occupies the southeastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It's topography is varied and dramatic, with rocky mountains and deep water inlets in the north, rolling dunes and salt flats in the central interior, verdant green hills in the southern Dhofar province, and a coastline stretching thousands of miles with magnificent beaches and cosy coves.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said has realised that tourism is an integral part of his modernisation programme, but thus far it is the wealthy who are being urged to bring their holiday funds to spend in Oman. Sightseeing and activities are mainly restricted to Muscat and the southern town of Salalah, famed for its seafood, frankincense trees and the ruins of the palace of the Queen of Sheba. Accommodation is offered mainly in luxury resort hotels.

Making responsible use of oil revenue, Muscat has taken on the veneer of a prosperous modern Arab city without losing its old world charm and heritage. It features forts, palaces and other historic sites of interest to visitors, as well as an exciting traditional souq (bazaar) and some stunning long sandy beaches like Qurum, Bandar Al-Jissah and Yeti.

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Al Faisaliah Hotel, Riyadh © Rosewood Hotels

Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, but few enter as tourists. This conservative country connecting Africa and mainland Asia contains the spiritual centre of the Islamic world, Mecca, and the sacred city of Medina, so most of the visitors are pilgrims, permitted on special religious visas.

Others come to this oil-rich nation on sponsored business trips, generally finding little time or facility for leisure and pleasure. Saudi Arabia is intent on keeping its traditions, culture and religious heritage away from prying western eyes. Its cities, however, are not backwaters but modern, bustling commercial centres, like the Royal capital, Riyadh, offering excellent hotels and some breathtaking sights such as the Al Faisaliah golden geodesic dome, one of the tallest buildings in the region.

Amongst it all, the magic of Arabia shines through in the souks (markets) where vendors tout everything from carpets to camel milk. Rules and regulations make sightseeing difficult for foreigners except on a few approved and expensive tours, but sites like the ruins of 15th-century Dir'aiyah (the nation's first capital) and trips to the world's largest camel market make for interesting excursions. The preserved ancient city of Jeddah is also listed as a 'tourist site', as is that city's seafront corniche, a popular spot with the air of a British seaside resort that draws the country's own domestic holidaymakers.

Occupying most of the Arabian Peninsula, and bordered by no fewer than eight Middle-Eastern states, Saudi Arabia manages its highly-controlled religious society alongside the onslaught of its progressive oil-boom industry. The kingdom's strategic position both geographically and culturally at the centre of the Arab world has made it an unsafe place for westerners, and those who do visit are advised to plan thoroughly and be fully informed.

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Horseshoe Bay © Bermuda.Com Ltd

Bermuda

Britain's oldest colony, Bermuda, is a land of pink, sandy beaches, clear turquoise seas and picturesque old colonial towns. It is hard now to imagine that sailors knew it as Devil's Island, but the combination of shallow waters and coral reefs caused many shipwrecks in the past, which contibuted to the legend of the 'Bermuda Triangle', which stretches from Bermuda to Florida and Puerto Rico. Today, however, the reefs provide a wonderful playground for swimming, snorkelling, and diving.

Bermuda is an archipelago comprised of approximately 200 coral islands and islets located 650 miles (1,045km) off the east coast of America in the Atlantic Ocean. The bulk of the country consists of the seven main islands linked to each other by causeways and bridges and stretches just 20 miles (32km) from tip to tail.

Most visitors to the islands are American citizens who think of it fondly as very English in character. British visitors, on the other hand, seem to feel that it has a strongly American flavour. In truth, Bermuda has a distinct atmosphere that draws its influences from American and British traditions merged with local island culture. Business attire might constitute a jacket and tie with Bermuda shorts, while bikinis are banned further than 25 feet (7.5m) away from the water!

With its mixture of colonial style and its close proximity to America, Bermuda has become a centre of high finance as well as one of the world's most coveted holiday destinations. Generous tax advantages and satellite communications have induced a stream of major corporations to set up offices on the island, and have helped the country become one of the richest, per capita, in the world.

Because of its natural beauty and close proximity to Florida, Bermuda is a very popular destination for both cruise ships and yachts. Over 200,000 people visit the islands from cruise ships every year.

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Golden Gate Bridge © San Francisco CVB

California

The legend of California, the embroidered image portrayed by Hollywood's worldwide film and television industry, really does exist. Days are warm and sunny, the mansions of Beverley Hills are the height of luxury, beautifully-sculpted bodies roller-blade along the beachfront boardwalks, blonde-haired surfers compete for waves and the allure of Hollywood's fame and fortune is as strong as ever.

Everyone either adores or despises the Golden State, the 'spoilt kid' of the USA, who brushes off the barbs of envious resentment with indifference, confident in the knowledge that California offers one of the most varied and exciting places to live in America. The world-renowned cities of the West Coast are strung along miles of magnificent coastline with cliffs, soaring redwood forests and beaches. The high snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and the magnificent glacier-carved valley of Yosemite National Park contrast with the shimmering heat of spectacular desert landscapes and the neat rows of leafy vineyards in the Napa Valley, one of the world's best-known wine growing regions.

The Golden Gate Bridge, steep roller-coaster hills and the formidable island of Alcatraz are instantly recognisable images of San Francisco, while the welcoming beach lifestyle and family-fun attractions make San Diego a popular vacation destination. Undoubtedly the city with the most razzle-dazzle is Los Angeles, a high-energy conglomeration of wealthy neighbourhoods, beaches and excessive standards of living. It lives up to its reputation as 'the entertainment capital of the world' presenting the attractions of Hollywood, Universal Studios and Disneyland, as well as first-class shopping, fine restaurants and a lively nightlife.

As the most populous state in the USA, California is blighted by pollution, congested freeways, crime and overcrowded attractions, but it remains a leader in social tolerance, as well as being a forerunner in the film, entertainment and music industry. The state also lives with the constant threat of earthquakes, being cut through by the San Andreas Fault. Despite the ever-present fear that 'the big one' will strike, California remains one of the most popular states in which to live, work and play.

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Bow River Valley, Banff National Park © Travel Alberta

Canada Travel Guide

The vast frontier of Canada is a land of windswept prairies, towering mountains, fields of glaciers, pristine lakes and rocky coastlines. Filled with diverse wildlife like wolves, moose, bears, eagles and other animals, the Canadian landscape is one of great natural beauty and provides ample opportunity for outdoor sports like hiking, canoeing, fishing, skiing, snowmobiling, and even dog sledding.

While the image of Canada in most people's minds is one of untouched wilderness, Canada's cities are just as colourful. Whether you'd like to attend a rodeo in Calgary, marvel at the museums in Ottawa, browse the restaurants and art galleries of Toronto's Distillery District, or have a picnic in Vancouver's Stanley Park, the cosmopolitan cities spread across Canada offer a range of attractions that will please any traveller.

Canada is often thought of as a poor imitation of the United States, but this couldn't be further from the truth. The famously friendly locals provide a warm welcome to tourists, and anyone heading off to a holiday in Canada will soon discover it has a unique personality all its own.

Best time to visit Canada

The weather in Canada is extreme, ranging from frigidly cold in winter to uncomfortably hot in the peak of summer; so the best time to visit Canada is in late spring and early autumn when temperatures are more moderate. May and September are the best times to go for smaller crowds as well, as few American and Canadian families travel at these times.

Top things to see in Canada

- Stroll the cobblestone streets of Vancouver's historic Gastown district.

- Visit the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

- See the enormous collections at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

- Take in the panoramic view of Toronto from the top of the CN Tower.

Top things to do

- Ride the Maid of the Mist to get a close view of the famous Niagara Falls.

- Get a taste of French-Canadian culture in Winnipeg's St. Boniface district.

- Hike on the Columbia Icefields in Jasper National Park.

- Go skiing at Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies.

Getting to Canada

There are dozens of direct cheap flights to Canada from the US and the UK, mostly to major hubs like Toronto Airport and Montreal Trudeau. As most cities in Canada are close to the US border, driving to Canada is a popular way to get there as well.

Read

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Klee Wyck by Emily Carr, and Consolation by Michael Redhill

Listen

Neil Young, Celine Dion, and Alanis Morissette

Watch

Strange Brew (1983), One Week (2008), and Toronto Stories (2008)

Drink

Ice wine or ice cider from Ontario and British Columbia.

Eat

Pancakes with maple syrup and fresh British Columbia salmon.

What to Buy

Hockey memorabilia and Native American art.

What to Pack

The warmest clothes possible (when travelling in winter).

What's on in Canada

The biggest rodeo in the world takes place each summer when Edmonton hosts the Calgary Stampede.

Did you know?

Ninety percent of Canada's population lives within 100 miles (160km) of the US border.

A final word

An untamed wilderness dotted with cosmopolitan cities, a holiday in Canada really is the best of both worlds.

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Sunset in Florida ©

Florida

Millions of pleasure-seekers can't be wrong! Florida is North America's favourite holiday destination and draws hordes of tourists all year round. The reason for the state's popularity as a vacation station is its sunny climate and situation. Consisting of a peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean from the southeastern corner of the United States, Florida's uneven coastline is indented with estuaries, bays, inlets, lagoons and rivers, creating ideal enclaves for the location of holiday resorts. Right in the south the peninsula ends in an arc of islands resting on coral reefs, known as the Florida Keys, today joined and accessed via a highway ending in Key West, the southernmost point of the United States.

After World War II, tourism development took off at a great pace, not to enhance its natural attractions, but in the form of building man-made ones. The central part of the state, particularly around Tampa and Orlando, has since become a theme park paradise for thrill seekers. Enticing venues offer everything from water slides to rollicking roller coasters, and themed animal habitats attract thousands to the accompanying resort hotels on the huge sites of Disney World, Sea World, Busch Gardens and other major resort operators.

The state's biggest city, Miami, echoes the vibrancy of the rest of this holiday Mecca, with its soft white sandy beaches vying for attention with the city's numerous attractions and colourful neighbourhoods. Its famous Art Deco district and Latin American quarter are constantly thronged with visitors, many of them passengers from the hundreds of cruise ships that come and go in the bustling port. Within easy access from Miami are the Everglades, a marshy grass plain resonating with wildlife and filled with alligators.

Aptly named the 'Sunshine State', Florida can offer anything anyone seeks in a holiday, whether it be fine wining and dining, learning about space exploration, discovering endangered wildlife, riding a roller coaster or bronzing on one of its famous beaches.

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Relax at Vallodolid, Yucatan © larry&flo

Mexico Travel Guide

In a few words Sunny and welcoming, Mexico has earned its reputation as one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. More than 20 million people visit Mexico each year, drawn by the warm weather and postcard-perfect resort beaches and seduced by the colourful culture of the cities.

World-class resorts like Acapulco, Cancun and Cabo San Lucas receive the bulk of the tourists in Mexico, while many more travel the coasts in enormous cruise ships stopping at ports along Baja California and the Yucatan Peninsula. Clear ocean waters ideal for surfing, scuba diving and other water sports are a major draw, as well as onshore activities like 4x4 riding, hiking and beach volleyball. The nightlife in the resorts is renowned for its intensity, and top restaurants complete the perfect package-holiday picture.

Travellers who venture inland to Mexico's less-visited cities discover a different side to the country though; one of colourful colonial buildings, rich and fragrant culinary traditions, lively mariachi rhythms and sold-out bullfighting arenas. A history going back for thousands of years through the Mayan, Aztec and Olmec cultures has left Mexico a rich heritage with stunning archaeological sites like Chichen Itza and Teotihuacán. Yet Mexico has a modern side as well, and bustling metropolises like Mexico City and Guadalajara offer visitors the chance to meet the real face of Mexico.

Best time to visit Mexico

November is the best month to visit Mexico, as the peak tourist season has ended and the temperatures are moderate and pleasant. While Mexico's weather is famously sunny, the rainy season in Mexico lasts from May to mid-October. Seasons to avoid in Mexico are the peak of summer (June to August) when the heat and humidity reach their climax, and the Easter holidays in March and April, when the resorts are overrun by students on Spring Break.

Top things to see in Mexico

-Marvel at the ancient temple of Chichen Itza.

-Take a close look at coral reefs in Cozumel.

-See the ruins of the Aztec city of Teotihuacan.

-Go whale-watching in Cabo San Lucas.

Top things to do

-Let loose in the nightlife of Acapulco and Cancun.

-Try Mayan chocolate in Oaxaca.

-Go surfing on the beaches of Baja California.

-Take a ride on the Copper Canyon Railway.

Getting to Mexico

There are dozens of daily flights to Mexico from many major US cities, mostly arriving in Mexico City and popular resort areas like Acapulco and Cancun; there are regular direct flights to Mexico from the UK and Europe as well. Driving to Mexico from the US involves border crossings at one of 42 border posts, the most popular places to cross the border are San Diego/Tijuana, El Paso/Ciudad Juarez, and Laredo/Nuevo Laredo.

Read

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel and Aztec by Gary Jennings.

Listen

Cancion del Mariachi and La Malagueña.

Watch

Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001), Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003), and Frida (2002).

Drink

Tequila, Corona, and Mexican hot chocolate.

Eat

Carne asada (grilled beef), Cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork), fish tacos, corn tortillas, and churros.

What to buy

Woven blankets, silver jewellery and tequila.

What to pack

The Mexican sun is notoriously hot, so pack plenty of sunscreen and a hat. After sun lotion and aloe vera gel tends to be expensive at resorts.

What's on in Mexico

The town of Puebla commemorates Cinco de Mayo each spring with music and dancing. The colourful decorations and solemn processions of the Day of the Dead are a fascinating sight each November. Artists in Oaxaca carve radishes into elaborate nativities for the Night of the Radishes, held just before Christmas.

Did you know?

-Mexico introduced chocolate, corn, and chilies to the world.

-While bullfighting is Mexico's national sport, football (or soccer) is more popular.

-Puebla, near Mexico City, is home to the smallest volcano in the world: the Cuexcomate, in the city of Puebla, is only 43 feet (13m) tall.

A final word

Spicy food, colourful culture and warm and welcoming people contribute to making Mexico one of the top tourist destinations in the world.

# Abacos © Bahamas Ministry of Tourism

Bahamas Travel Guide

The 29 islands, 661 cays, and 2,387 islets that make up the Bahamas are a paradise of hidden treasures for holidaymakers to explore.

The laidback attitude of life in the Bahamas is infectious, as is the party atmosphere that comes to life during festivals like Junkanoo and in the lively bars and nightclubs of Nassau and Freeport.

Isolated lagoons and near-deserted beaches evoke images of bloodthirsty pirates buried chests of gold and rum in hidden spots, and visitors can learn more about the colourful history of swashbucklers in the Bahamas at the Nassau Pirate Museum.

These days, the Bahamas' main industries aren't piracy, but tourism and banking. Most visitors to the Bahamas will never get a glimpse into the buttoned up financial world of the Bahamas, but that's okay because they're too busy swimming with dolphins, hiking and bird-watching in Bahamas National Trust Park, scuba diving in spectacular coral reefs, and enjoying world-class resorts with facilities like golf courses, casinos, watersports, spas and other holiday activities.

Best time to visit the Bahamas

The weather in the Bahamas is beautiful all year round, however it can get very hot in the late summer months of July and August. Hurricane season in the Bahamas runs from June to November, and this is considered the off-season so many hotels and resorts do major construction projects then. The best time to visit the Bahamas is between December and April, when temperatures range 75-85F (24-29C) and there is little rain.

Top things to see in the Bahamas

-Learn some local history at the Bahamas Historical Museum.

-Go bird-watching in Half Moon Cay.

-Learn about swashbuckling brigands at the Pirate Museum in Nassau.

-Explore the markets and restaurants of Freeport.

Top things to do

-Get a close-up view of sea life on an undersea walk.

-Go sport fishing for sailfish and marlin in the Bimini Islands.

-Hug a friendly bottlenose dolphin at Dolphin Encounters.

-Go scuba diving in the coral reefs near Andros Island.

Getting to the Bahamas

There are plenty of direct cheap flights to the Bahamas from the US, departing from most major airports on half a dozen airlines. There are no direct flights to the Bahamas from the UK. However, connecting flights are available, and the flight takes 9-10 hours.

Read

Thine is the Kingdom by Garth Buckner and Island Boy by Eric Minns.

Listen

Alphonso 'Blind Blake' Higgs

Watch

Thunderball (1966) and After the Sunset (2004).

Drink

Bahama Mama cocktails

Eat

Local seafood like crawfish and conch.

Buy in the Bahamas

Pearl jewellery and woven baskets are great souvenirs from the Bahamas. Avoid conch shells, as they are endangered and may be confiscated by customs.

Pack for the Bahamas

Be sure to pack lots of sunscreen for the Bahamas, as the sun can be quite intense.

What's on in the Bahamas

Boxing Day is lively and colourful as locals celebrate Junkanoo each year with parades and music. The Long Island Regatta is the main event in the Bahamas yachting calendar every year.

Some random facts

-The Bahamas has the clearest waters in the world with visibility of over 200 feet (61 meters).

-The ratio of flamingos to people on Great Inagua is 61:1.

-Paradise Island was originally called Hogg Island.

A final word

The sparkling beaches and crystal-clear waters of the Bahamas make the country an ideal Caribbean holiday destination.

# Mahogany Bay - West Coast © Barbados Tourism Authority

Barbados Travel Guide

Known as the 'Pearl of the Caribbean', Barbados is a deservedly world-famous tourist destination. A gorgeous tropical paradise containing the popular cruise port of Bridgetown, the island itself is actually an enormous coral reef that was formed over a million years ago. This unique geography results in a breathtaking coastline, and some of the best snorkelling, surfing and diving action in the world.

The western half of the pear-shaped island, often referred to as the Platinum Coast;, is dominated by deluxe beach resorts, filled nearly all year by eager package-tour holidaymakers looking to bronze their skins on the calm shores of the Caribbean Sea. The central highlands area of the island is home to some interesting cultural sights (including distilleries and plantations), picturesque villages and some amazing walking and hiking trails. The eastern half of the island, which gives way to the Atlantic Ocean, is commonly referred to as the 'Soup Bowl' because of its big waves and foaming surf; this is the place to be for surfers and backpackers, home to an assortment of low-cost accommodation and lively beach-side bars.

Called 'Little England' by some, Barbados' strong ties with English culture over the years have bequeathed it a genial atmosphere and good infrastructure. The sun shines 340 days of the year in Barbados, and the famously friendly locals only serve to increase the island's glorious ambience. Barbados is one of the most popular winter sun vacation destinations in the world for northern hemisphere tourists, and is an obligatory stop on any Caribbean cruise adventure.

Best time to visit Barbados

Barbados is sunny and fair, and can be visited at any time of year. The best time to visit Barbados is during the dry season, which runs from January to June - making it the perfect winter sun vacation destination for travellers from the northern hemisphere. The hurricane season in Barbados runs from June to October, but the island is not generally prone to these natural disasters: visitors will far more likely experience short and spectacular tropical rainstorms during this time.

Top things to see in Barbados

-Head to the Platinum Coast, and drink in the sight of the azure water gently lapping at the golden sands.

-The scent of outsize tropical flowers hangs heavy in the air in Andromeda Botanical Gardens.

-Capture some memories of your holiday in Barbados by taking some photos of the spectacular coastline of Bathsheba.

-Take a tour of the Foursquare Rum Distillery and Heritage Park, located on the site of an old sugar plantation.

Top things to do in Barbados

-Try your hand at surfing in the Soup Bowl, located on the island's eastern coast.

-Get your snorkel gear out, and go explore sunken ships in the clear depths of the Caribbean Sea.

-Socialise with travellers from all over the globe in the backpacker bars that line Barbados' east coast.

-Indulge in some authentic island food, such as breaded flying fish and the Barbadian speciality known as 'pepperpot'.

Getting to Barbados

You can find direct cheap flights to Barbados from the US and the UK. Tour operators such as Thomas Cook have charter flights to Barbados available at certain times of the year. Barbados is also the only holiday destination in the world with a scheduled Concord service, with up to four flights a week during the dry season.

Read

The Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke

Watch

Hit for Six (2007)

Eat

Breaded flying fish, served with spicy yellow sauce made from Scotch Bonnet peppers; and be sure to try a 'pepperpot' (spicy pork stew served in a dark brown sauce), the island's national dish.

Drink

Drink rum cocktails, and sample the local Banks beer.

Buy

Haggle with beach vendors for handmade jewellery, colourful fabrics and folk art; and be sure to pick up a bottle or two of the excellent Mount Gay Rum.

Pack for Barbados

Pack plenty of sunscreen for a holiday in Barbados, as well as some effective insect repellent. A lightweight rain slicker is a good idea, just in case you get in a storm.

What's on in Barbados

Surfing competitions are held throughout the year in Barbados' Soup Bowl area, on the island's east coast. Witness an island-style cultural celebration at the Holetown Festival, held just north of Bridgetown. The Barbados Food & Wine and Rum Festival is a delight, featuring top cuisine from world-renowned chefs and the best produce from the island's many rum distilleries.

Some random facts

-Barbados' Mount Gay rum is the oldest still-functioning rum distillery in the world.

-The island's literacy rate is 98 percent.

A final word

A quintessential Caribbean paradise, travellers to Barbados can anticipate a relaxing, sun-soaked holiday, full of idle hours spent in perfect tranquility.

# Stingrays © Fevi in Cayman

Cayman Islands Travel Guide

The Cayman Islands, a group of coral islands lying about 90 (144km) miles south of Cuba, are one of the Caribbean's favourite holiday destinations - a beautiful beach paradise, jam-packed with excellent resorts, fine restaurants, friendly locals and some of the best snorkelling and diving sites in the world.

The Cayman Islands consist of three islands: Grand Cayman (home to the capital of George Town), Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac. Most of the Cayman Island's best beaches and resorts, as well as most of its tourist sights and amenities, are found on Grand Cayman, and for many visitors this welcoming island boasts more than enough attractions fill an entire holiday. However, those who do venture to Cayman Brac and Little Cayman will be richly rewarded for their efforts, as these picture-perfect, under-developed islands abound with natural beauty, and offer visitors a real opportunity to feel as though as they've 'got away from it all' for a while.

The two great attractions of a holiday in the Cayman Islands are the beauty of its beaches, and the quality of its snorkelling and diving sites. Seven Mile Beach, on Grand Cayman, is often described as the 'quintessential Caribbean beach', with powdery sand and warm, turquoise waters; while Rum Point features shady trees and is renowned for its rich marine life.

The Cayman Islands are home to what are commonly called the 'best dive sites in the western hemisphere', and both novice and experienced divers will be spoilt for choice, with over 100 sites on Grand Cayman alone. The islands are also home to a fine selection of restaurants, a wonderful climate, and a truly hospitable and charming local population - all elements that combine to make the Cayman Islands an obvious choice for an unforgettable Caribbean getaway.

Best time to visit the Cayman Islands

The weather in the Cayman Islands is good all year round, with plenty of sunshine hours and cooling trade winds to temper the sultry tropical climate. Peak tourist season is from December to April (the dry season). The rainy season runs from May to November, yet many actually regard this as the best time to visit the Cayman Islands, as room rates are cheaper and the beaches are less crowded, and when it does rain, it usually comes in short, sharp bursts that clear up quickly. However, if you do plan to visit during the rainy season, you are advised to keep a close eye on weather reports in the days leading up to your arrival, as hurricanes remain a very real seasonal threat.

Top things to see in the Cayman Islands

-Seven Mile Beach is pristine and gorgeous, and is backed by an array of top-quality restaurants and cafes.

-Little Cayman is perfect for honeymooners seeking seclusion and tranquillity, featuring a lovely beach with pink sand and calm waters.

-The Pedro St James Castle is the Cayman Islands' oldest surviving building and is known locally as the 'birthplace of democracy'.

-The dramatic limestone cliffs and abundant flora and fauna of Cayman Brac inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.

Top things to do in the Cayman Islands

-Go snorkelling in Jackson Point and the Devil's Grotto.

-Visit Hell, a small village where black limestone rock formations are said to resemble scenes from the Underworld.

-Take a sunset cruise on the Jolly Roger, a replica of a 17th century galleon.

-Head to the Tortuga Rum Cake Factory in George Town, and sample some of their famous fare.

Getting to the Cayman Islands

Part of the Cayman Islands' enormous appeal as a beach holiday destination is its relative accessibility from American and British cities. Cheap flights to the Cayman Islands are easy to find from a variety of American destinations, with the flight from Miami taking just 90 minutes. Direct flights to either Owen Roberts International on Grand Cayman, or Gerrard Smith Airport on Cayman Brac, are available from major British airports, with the flight taking about 11 hours.

Read

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Founded Upon the Seas by Michael Craton, and The Firm by John Grisham

Watch

Haven (2004)

Eat

Seafood like fish, turtle and conch.

Drink

Cocktails made from local Caribbean rum.

What to buy

Tortuga Rum Cakes and jewellery made from black coral or Caymanite, the islands' own semi-precious stone.

What to pack

Pack plenty of sunscreen, lightweight clothing, after-sun lotion and effective insect repellent for a holiday in the Cayman Islands.

What's on in the Cayman Islands

The annual Pirates Week Festival (November) is a fantastically fun and colourful event, bringing fancy dress, street parties and cultural performances to George Town's harbour area. The Batabano Festival (April) features costumes and floats inspired by the marine life of the Cayman Islands, and centres around performances given by masquerading bands, who give voice to social issues with humour and creativity.

Did you know?

-The fictional island of Tortuga, from Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, is based on the Cayman Islands.

-The Cayman Islands suffer more Atlantic hurricanes than any other nation.

A final word

The Cayman Islands offer an ideal Caribbean holiday experience, with gorgeous white sand beaches, warm turquoise waters begging to be explored by snorkellers and divers, and a top-quality tourist infrastructure.

# Che Guevara © hoyasmeg

Cuba Travel Guide

There are very few countries in the world as richly and immediately evocative as Cuba. Just the mention of its name seems to conjure images of faded Spanish-Colonial buildings, 1950s-era American cars parked on sun-soaked street corners, and salsa dancing to the libidinous beat of Afro-Cuban rhythms.

Broadly speaking, Cuba attracts two kinds of tourists. First are those attracted by the fascinating recent history of the country, which despite having withstood over 60 years of communist rule, US embargoes, and the sudden withdrawal of Soviet Union-sponsored subsidies in 1991, has not lost any of its national character. Others choose to holiday in Cuba for its magnificent white-sand beaches, staked with lush palm trees and framed by some of the best diving and snorkelling sites in the world.

There is much to see and do in Cuba, encompassing historical attractions (such as the Museum of the Revolution and the Bay of Pigs Museum), wonderfully charming small towns, beautiful natural surrounds (the Vinales Valley), world-class beaches (the Playas del Este), and - of course - more hedonistic pursuits, such as cigar factory tours, salsa dancing, and more bars and nightclubs than even Hemingway could've been thrown out of at closing time.

There are also an array of high-quality resorts in Cuba (such as Varadero), offering all-inclusive package-deal holidays where the only thing you'll have to worry about it is getting too much sun.

While it must be mentioned that Cuba suffers from a lack of infrastructure - and might not be the most 'comfortable' travel you ever embark upon - those willing to just 'go with the flow' will be richly rewarded.

Best time to visit Cuba

The best time to visit Cuba is between December and May, when days are warm, dry and sunny. Between June and November, Cuba can be very hot, humid and wet - although on the plus side, as this is low tourist season, accommodation will be cheaper and tourist attractions will be less crowded.

Top things to see in Cuba

- The Museo de la Revolucion in Havana provides a fascinating introduction to Cuba's colourful recent history.

- Sancti Spiritus is a beautiful colonial city, largely untouched by mass tourism.

- Even non-smokers should take a tour of one of Cuba's famous cigar factories (Partagas is always a favourite).

- Afro-Cuban dance and musical performances are an integral part of Havana nightlife.

Top things to do in Cuba

- Join the sunset crowds for a walk along El Malecon, a 5-mile (8km) in Havana.

- Spend the day between relaxing on the soft white sand and cooling off in the azure waters in Cayo Largo Del Sur.

- Take some iconic photographs of 'Yank Tanks' (50's-era American cars) parked in front of faded pastel-coloured buildings in Old Havana (Habana Vieja).

Getting to Cuba

There are cheap flights to Cuba available from the UK and the USA. Direct flights to Jose Marti International Airport (located 11 miles or 18km from Havana) are only available from the UK; passengers entering from the USA must take an indirect route, with the most popular stop being Guantanamo NAS.

Read

Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, Explosion in a Cathedral by Alejo Carpentier, and Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas.

Listen

Buena Vista Social Club OST, Chucho Valdes, Equis Alfonso, Celia Cruz and Interactivo.

Watch

Buena Vista Social Club (1999), Che (2008), Suite Habana (2003), and Death of a Bureaucrat (1966).

Drink

Rum cocktails - including the Cuba Libre (rum and cola) and Mojito (rum, lime, sugar, mint leaves, club soda and ice).

Eat

Cajita, a plate full of rice, beans, vegetables, pork or chicken and plantains.

What to buy

Che Guevara t-shirts, rum and cigars are obvious and popular souvenirs.

What to pack

Take lightweight clothing, a raincoat, a swimsuit, comfortable shoes as well as sandals, plenty of sunscreen and good insect repellent.

What's on in Cuba

The Havana Carnival (July and August) is a street-party like no other, with costumes, fireworks, dancing and musical performances carrying on long into the night. The Havana Jazz Festival () is attended by thousands of jazz fans from all over the world. The International Festival of New Latin American Cinema () screens the best new independent cinema from Caribbean and Latin American film-makers.

Did you know?

-Cubans have a higher life expectancy than Americans.

-Cuba has the highest doctor-to-citizen ratio of any country in the world.

-When Christopher Columbus reached Cuba in 1492, he thought he was disembarking on Chinese shores.

A final word on Cuba

Leave your preconceptions at home and head to Cuba for a sun- and fun-filled holiday the likes of which you'll never forget.

# Sandy beaches at Ocho Rios © Paul Micallef

Jamaica Travel Guide

The Caribbean's most famous island, Jamaica is a world heavyweight tourist destination, offering visitors a heady cocktail of sublime weather, pristine beaches, fun cities and interesting cultural attractions. Although Jamaica is an incredibly popular place to visit - and retains very few 'off the beaten track' areas to explore - mass tourism has not spoiled the island's considerable charms, and it remains a great bet for a relaxing, fun-filled beach holiday.

Jamaica's northern and western shores - and particularly, the areas around Montego Bay - are lined with upmarket beach resorts, offering 'all-inclusive' holiday packages in the very lap of luxury. Jamaica is also a (predictably) popular cruise destination, and offers a wealth of excellent watersport activities, such as diving, snorkelling, surfing, jet-skiing and kite-surfing.

However, even though some of the island's beaches are legendary (such as Negril's Seven-Mile Beach), it would be a mistake to assume that warm, clear waters and golden sands are all that Jamaica has to offer. The cities of Kingston and Montego Bay are dynamic and exciting, and full of interesting cultural sights such as the National Gallery and an array of plantation-era mansions known as Great Houses. Furthermore, Jamaica's Blue Mountains do not only produce some of the world's best coffee, but offer plenty of excellent hiking trails for adventure-seekers.

Best time to visit Jamaica

Jamaica's climate is tropical, with warm temperatures all year round. The wet season runs from June to November, with most rain falling in September and October. The best time to visit Jamaica is between December and April, making it an ideal winter sun vacation destination for tourists from the northern hemisphere. Those travelling on a budget should think about braving the elements a little and travelling in the rainy season, as airfares and accommodation prices fall dramatically at this time.

Top things to see in Jamaica

-Gawk at the immodestly-dressed sunbathers on Seven Mile Beach in Negril.

-Take in the Bob Marley Museum and the National Gallery while in Kingston.

-Tour the Appleton Rum Estate, and indulge in a richly-deserved rum cocktail.

Top things to do in Jamaica

-Make the pilgrimage to Nine Mile Village, and visit the final resting-place of reggae legend Bob Marley.

-Head to Montego Bay's Hip Strip and join a late-night party at one of the area's vibrant nightclubs.

-Head to the Blue Mountains, and enjoy a hike through coffee plantations and the outstanding natural scenery of Strawberry Hill.

-Seek out Dolphin Cove in Ocho Rios for a once-in-a-lifetime experience of swimming with dolphins.

Getting to Jamaica

There are direct cheap flights to Jamaica available from airports throughout the US and UK. Tour operators such as Thomas Cook and Thomson Airways have charter flights to Jamaica available at certain times of the year.

Read

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and Pao by Kerry Young.

Watch

Cool Runnings (1993), Rockers (1978), and Shottas (2002).

Eat

Jamaica is famous for its jerk seasoning, which is a spicy barbecue marinade that some travellers find totally addictive. Be sure to try the island's national dish of ackee (a local fruit with a very distinctive flavour) and saltfish.

Drink

Rum cocktails, and Red Stripe beer - one of the island's most celebrated exports. What to buy Go see a live reggae act and pick up a CD as a keepsake of your time on Jamaica.

What to pack

Pack plenty of sunscreen and some effective insect repellent for a holiday in Jamaica. A lightweight rain slicker is a good idea, just in case you get in a downpour. After-sun lotion is also a good idea, as it can relieve the worst effects of sunburn and prevent your skin from peeling.

What's on in Jamaica

Every year in the first week of February, reggae devotees gather in Kingston for Bob Marley Week to celebrate the life of the island's favourite son. Join the crowds at the annual Reggae Marathon, which takes place along the glorious white sands of Negril's beaches. The Boston Jerk Festival is the place to go to sample Jamaica's famous jerk seasoning.

Did you know?

-Ian Fleming wrote 10 James Bond novels while living in Jamaica.

-Jamaica was the first tropical country to enter the Winter Olympics.

-Jamaica is home to the oldest railway in the 'new world'.

A final word

Jamaica is the jewel in the glittering crown that is the West Indian archipelago, and tourists looking for a relaxing holiday full of sun and excitement will find that the unassuming island exceeds all their expectations.

#
Iguazu Falls Argentina ©

Argentina Travel Guide

Argentina spans a massive 2,263 miles (3,650km) from north to south, giving the narrow country a huge variety of landscapes and attractions ranging from the desert cattle ranges of the Pampas in the north to the glaciers and penguin colonies of Tierra del Fuego in the south.

In between those extremes lies the sultry heart of Argentina, Buenos Aires. The birthplace of the tango, Buenos Aires is a fascinating city of history and culture and is overflowing with amazing restaurants, theatres, nightclubs and dance halls.

Many of Argentina's most popular attractions are not in the cities however, but spread across its verdant landscape. The famous Iguazú Falls, voted one of the natural wonders of the world in 2011, draw tourists from all over the globe, as do the excellent vineyards of the wine region in Mendoza, and the popular ski resorts Bariloche and Las Leñas.

Argentina is a patchwork made up of colourful panoramas and even more colourful people. A hugely popular tourist destination in South America, a holiday in Argentina is an adventure likely never to be forgotten.

Best time to visit Argentina

The weather in Argentina varies widely from north to south, so deciding the best time to visit Argentina depends on where you're going. The best time to visit Patagonia and the southern region is in summer (December to February) when temperatures are moderate; while the northern region and Iguazú Falls are best visited in winter (June to August) for the same reason. The best time to go to Buenos Aires is in the spring and autumn (September to November and March to May) to avoid extreme temperatures and large crowds. The ski season in Argentina runs from June to October.

Top things to see in Argentina

-Visit Iguazú National Park and the only remaining Guarani settlements in Argentina.

-See the grand Casa Rosada, the bright pink home of Juan and Eva Peron.

-Hike on the spectacular ice formations of Los Glaciares National Park.

-Visit the penguin colonies in southern Patagonia.

Top things to do

-Learn to tango in the nightclubs of Buenos Aires.

-Go skiing in Argentinean ski resorts like Cerro Catedral and Los Penitentes.

-Sample local wines in the vineyards of Mendoza.

-Go white-water rafting down the Rio Manso in the Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi.

Getting to Argentina

Getting to Argentina is a long process, as flights to Argentina from London take between 11 and 16 hours. There are direct flights to Argentina from a few major US cities, as well as London. Most flights to Argentina land in Buenos Aires at Ministro Pistarini International Airport.

Read

On Heroes and Tombs by Ernesto Sabato, and Evita: In My Own Words by Eva Peron.

Listen

La Revancha del Tango (Gotan Project)

Watch

Evita (1996) and Naked Tango (1991).

Drink

Mate and Argentinean wine.

Eat

Hot empanadas and Dulce de Leche.

Buy in Argentina

Argentinean wine, tango albums and leathergoods like handbags and jackets.

Pack for Argentina

Bring some nice clothes for evenings in Buenos Aires, restaurants and bars lean toward chic dress codes and casual establishments can be hard to find.

What's on in Argentina

See the twirling dancers at the Buenos Aires Tango Festival in autumn. The world's best polo players show off their talents at the Argentine Open every summer. Listen to traditional flamenco guitar at the International Guitar Festival, held each October.

Some random facts

-The official national sport of Argentina is pato, a combination of polo and basketball.

-Thirty percent of Argentina's population lives in Buenos Aires.

A final word

The sultry lure of the tango and colourful culture of Argentina makes it an exotic and romantic holiday destination.

#
Ipanema Beach © over_kind_man

Brazil Travel Guide

Sparkling beaches, winding rivers, dense jungles, rocky mountain peaks, colourful coral reefs and abundant wildlife: there's little Brazil doesn't offer when it comes to natural beauty. From the packed beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema to the isolated villages of the Amazon, travellers can choose nearly any kind of holiday in Brazil.

In this country though, the urban jungles are just as big an attraction as the natural ones. Cosmopolitan cities like Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and Sao Paulo offer visitors a dizzying array of cultural activities, whether it's a samba lesson in a nightclub, browsing designer shops, wandering through museums and art galleries, or taking a trip up to the famous Christ the Redeemer statue.

The Brazilians are a passionate people who love to have fun, packing the beaches full on weekends and filling soccer stadiums to capacity for every match. Festivals like the famous (or infamous) Carnaval showcase this love for life, one that tends to rub off a little on every visitor.

Best time to visit Brazil

The weather in Brazil varies greatly from city to city because of the country's huge size. The best time to visit Brazil is in August and September, when temperatures are moderate and relatively dry in most of the country.

Top things to see in Brazil

-Take in the panoramic views from the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.

-Explore Lake Janauari Ecological Park by canoe.

-Get some culture in the museums, theatres and galleries of Sao Paulo.

-Charter a boat to see the mountains, forests, waterfalls, lakes and secret coves of Angra dos Reis.

Top things to do

-Play sand volleyball or relax on Copacabana Beach.

-Learn to samba in the nightclubs of Rio de Janeiro.

-Go surfing in Itacaré.

-Ride the roller coasters at Hopi Hari. Read more about Brazil Activities.

Getting to Brazil

Getting to Brazil is rarely cheap due to the long distance travelled from most Western countries. Direct flights to Brazil from the US and Canada are available, mostly landing in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. There are few direct flights to Brazil from the UK, however connections are available from other cities like Lisbon.

Read

The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas by Joachim Maria Machado de Assis and Gabriela: Clove and Cinnamon by Jorge Amado

Listen

The Girl from Ipanema (Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz)

Watch

Rio (2011), Favela Rising (2005), and Fast Five (2005)

Drink

Caipirinha, Brazil's national cocktail, made with cachaça (sugar cane rum), sugar and lime.

Eat

Churrascaria, or Brazilian barbecue Buy in Brazil Havianas, gemstone jewellery and carvings.

Pack for Brazil

Casual clothes; very few places in Brazil require formal clothes.

What's on in Brazil

Rio de Janeiro comes alive for Carnaval each year at the beginning of Lent. Salvador de Bahia's Reveillon festival rings in the New Year on the beach. The Sao Paulo LGBT Pride Parade each June is South America's biggest gay pride event.

Some random facts

Brazil has more species of monkeys than any other country.

A final word

The laidback and fun-loving culture of Brazil is a perfect complement to its stunning natural beauty in creating an ideal South American holiday destination.

#
Autumn in Chile © mabahamo

Chile Travel Guide

Stretching 2,700 miles (4,300km) along the Pacific coast of South America, the distinctive ribbon of land that is Chile is only 109 miles (175km) wide on average. This unique shape gives Chile a widely varied climate and terrain, and contributes much to the diversity that makes the country so attractive for tourists.

Ranging from the hot and dry Atacama Desert in the north all the way to the cold and windy Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of the continent, Chile's lush landscape includes dense jungles, lonely mountain peaks, rolling winelands, picturesque fjords and sunny beaches.

Many of Chile's most popular attractions are found in its rich culture as well, however. Vibrant cities like Santiago and Valparaíso offer colourful markets, stately mansions and historical monuments, buzzing nightlife and fascinating museums.

The most intrepid explorers can venture far out to sea to Easter Island, to see the famous and enigmatic statues that have puzzled archaeologists for centuries.

A holiday in Chile promises excitement and enjoyment for all types of traveller, and an unforgettable South American adventure.

Best time to visit Chile

Chile's climate varies dramatically from north to south, with dramatic changes in temperature from summer to winter. While the summer months in Chile (December to February) are the warmest, summers in Chile tend to be very windy, especially in the southern part of the country. The best time to visit Chile is in the shoulder seasons, including October and November, and March and April. The weather in Chile is more temperate at these times. Winters in Chile are the worst time to visit, as the weather is very cold.

Top things to see in Chile

- See the giant and mysterious statues of Easter Island.

- Visit the Magdalena Island Penguin Reserve in Chilean Patagonia.

- Spot rare indigenous animals in Parque Nacional Chiloé.

- Watch the El Tatio Geysers shoot clouds of steam into the air.

Top things to do

- Stroll through the busy markets and stately buildings of Santiago.

- Take a cruise along the fjords of Chile's Lake District.

- Sample local vintages on a tour of Chilean wine country.

- Relax in the resort town of Pucón on Lake Villarica.

Getting to Chile

Getting to Chile from the US is simple, as there are direct flights to Santiago from many US cities, including New York, Miami, New Orleans and Denver. There are no direct flights to Chile from the UK, but there are indirect flights available from London and a few other major airports.

Read

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende and Tierra del Fuego by Francisco Coloane

Listen

Vicente Bianchi Alarcón

Watch

Post Mortem (2010)

Drink

Carmenere (Chilean red wine).

Eat

Freshly-caught Chilean sea bass and seafood stew.

What to buy

Lapis Lazuli jewellery, alpaca shawls and leathergoods.

What to pack

Warm layers, including a waterproof jacket for sudden showers

What's on in Chile

Dozens of theatre performances are staged around Santiago each January for Santiago a Mil.

Did you know?

-Along the mountainous region of Chile there are more than 1,300 volcanoes, a number of them still active.

-Chile is one of only two countries in South America that doesn't border Brazil.

A final word

Chile's wildly diverse landscape contains many adventures for intrepid travellers.

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Ecuador © jpereira_net

Ecuador Travel Guide

Situated on the equator, Ecuador is the smallest country in the Andean Highlands. Despite its size, it is probably the world's most bio-diverse country, crammed with an astounding variety of wildlife, birds and vegetation existing in contrasting climatic zones. Within a short time a visitor can experience dramatic changes in scenery, temperature, and altitude when journeying between Pacific Coast beaches and the sweltering mosquito-ridden rainforest, to the charming capital city of Quito surrounded by ice-covered volcanoes, and to colourful highland markets that add character and warmth to the windswept highlands of the Andes Mountains.

The people, along with their cultures and traditions, have also been influenced by the extreme environment. The backbone of Ecuador is the Andean highlands, made up of two mountain chains and more than 30 volcanoes. Between them lies the central highland valley or sierra, the Avenue of the Volcanoes, at about 8,960 feet (2,800m) above sea level. This is the heartland of agricultural activity, punctuated by dozens of remote communities, and is where the bulk of the population lives. Larger towns like Saquisilí and Otavalo swell on market days, when villagers come to sell their produce and handiwork in a vibrant and colourful atmosphere of festivity. The sierra is also home to most of the old and historically important cities, including Quito.

With its beautiful colonial architecture, magnificent panoramic scenery, vibrant indigenous groups and welcoming people, Ecuador is one of the most enticing and rewarding countries to visit in South America. And, as if it needed any further promotion, one of the world's greatest treasures of natural history lies in the bewitching Galapagos Islands, famed for the fearless and unique wildlife that inspired Charles Darwin, the island chain is roundly considered the highlight of any holiday in Ecuador.

Best time to visit Ecuador

The best time to visit Ecuador is in late spring (April and May) and early autumn (late August through September) when the humidity isn't quite so high. Ecuador's wet season runs from October to May, with the dry summer season from June to September. The waters around the Galapagos get cool and choppy from around September, however temperatures stay mild into early autumn. Ecuador's climate, which varies according to region, is fairly mild throughout the year, however travellers should note that during the high season (December to January and June to August) prices are noticeably higher and accommodation can be fully-booked. Read more on South Africa's Climate and Weather.

Top things to see in Ecuador

- Hike Cotopaxi, the world's highest active volcano, located in a national park surrounded by beautiful forests.

- Walk around the quaint colonial town of Cuenca, founded in 1557.

- View Quito from the Pichincha Volcano by taking a ride on the Telerifico, the world's second-highest cable car.

Top things to do in Ecuador

- Have a drink and people-watch on one of the many plazas in Quito, such as Plaza San Francisco.

- Enjoy the warm, clear waters by going to one of the many surf or dive camps along the coast.

- Take a cruise to the Galapagos Islands and visit the Charles Darwin Research Station near Puerto Ayora.

- Visit the therapeutic hot springs of Banos.

Getting to Ecuador

There are no direct flights to Ecuador from the UK, but many indirect flights are available to airports in Quito, Cuenca, Guayaquil, San Cristobal, and the Galapagos Islands. There are direct flights from the US to Ecuador, mostly from Miami and Atlanta. Most flights to Ecuador land at Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito, however. Indirect flights may stop over in Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia or Panama.

Read

The Red Book by Meaghan Delahunt and The Queen of Water by Laura Resau

Watch

Proof of Life (2000)

Drink

Canelazo, a warm, sweet and spicy alcoholic drink made with water, cinnamon sticks (canela), brown sugar, acid fruit juice such as naranjilla or lemon and aguardiente (fire water).

Listen

Pasillo, an extremely popular form of Latin music and the country's national genre. The Amor Fino, a type of ballad, is also a very popular genre.

What to buy

Colourful woven cloths, shawls, carpets, and hats.

What to pack

Swimsuits, surfing, snorkelling or diving gear, plenty of mosquito repellent and hiking boots to climb Cotopaxi.

Did you know?

Ecuador used to be the northernmost part of the Inca kingdom.

A final word

The fascinating local culture and delicious food combined with pretty colonial buildings, warm seas and beautiful beaches makes Ecuador an idyllic South American holiday destination.

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A girl and her llama in Peru © quinet

Peru Travel Guide

It is easy to be captivated by the thought of a holiday in Peru, exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu and navigating the waters of Lake Titicaca. While the popular sites are deservedly Peru's most famous tourist attractions, the country also boasts fine beaches, quaint fishing villages, epic hiking and walking trails, and the chance to experience a real Amazon adventure.

Most first-time visitors to Peru come to walk the Inca Trail, a famous (typically 4-day) hike to the 'Lost City of the Incas', Machu Picchu. However, a little-known fact about Peru is that about 60 percent of the country is covered by thick tropical rainforest. The Peruvian Amazon is lush and steamy, and home to an incredible amount of biodiversity, from large tropical flowers to howler monkeys and majestic jaguars. The two main entry-points, accessible by air, for a holiday in the Peruvian Amazon are Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado. From these cities, tours to isolated and eco-friendly jungle cabins can easily be arranged.

There are many more wonderful sights in Peru, including the mysterious Nazca Lines, the impressive Colca Canyon, the warms sands and surf of Manorca and the wonderful wildlife of the Ballestas Islands. Peru's capital, Lima, is a little rundown but nevertheless boasts some fine Spanish-colonial architecture and a restaurant scene of international repute.

Best time to visit Peru

The peak tourist season in Peru is from May to October, and particularly in July and August. Winter, from June to September, is the best time for the Inca Trail due to the wonderful visibility of the clear, sunny days, and this is also a good time to visit the Amazon basin, as mosquitoes are fewer and the animals stay closer to the water, making them easier to spot.

Top things to see in Peru

-Manu National Park, located in the isolated Amazonian region of Madre de Dios, is the best place to see tropical wildlife in Peru.

-Huacachina is an increasingly popular desert resort village built around a natural lake, offering fun dune-related activities like buggy rides and sandboarding.

-Manorca boasts fine beaches and good surfing conditions, and is a famous stop on the South American backpacking trail.

-Lima has a slightly seedy reputation, but this proud city is home to some great museums and awe-inspiring cathedrals, and its restaurant scene is to be savoured.

Top things to do in Peru

-The Inca Trail, a rewarding hike to the legendary ancient city of Machu Picchu, is an absolute must for first-time visitors to Peru.

-Don't miss your chance to cruise the waters of Lake Titicaca.

-Go see the Nazca Lines, a series of ancient geoglyphs whose origin and purpose remain a mystery to this day.

-Hike through the Colca Canyon, a spectacular gorge where enormous Andean condors soar overhead.

Getting to Peru

Cheap flights to Peru are easy to find from the UK and US. Direct flights to Peru are widely available from US cities, while visitors from the UK might have to book a connecting flight to Peru. The flight time to Lima is about 20 hours from most North American and European destinations.

Read

The Conquest of the Incas by John Hemming and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa.

Watch

The Dancer Upstairs (2002) and Touching the Void (2003).

Eat

Anticuchos (kebabs made from marinated beef heart), ceviche (raw fish marinated in lime juice), or - for the adventurous - the Andean delicacy cuy (guinea pig).

Drink

Pisco Sour, a drink made from the unique grape brandy of the region, and emoliente, a viscous herbal tea.

What to buy

Brightly-dyed alpaca woollen products, carved figurines, jewellery and traditional musical instruments like pan flutes (zamponas) and skin drums.

What to pack

If you're attempting the Inca Trail, be sure to pack warm clothes and good quality, worn-in walking shoes. If you're planning on spending some time in the Amazon, pack lightweight (and preferably long-sleeved) garments and effective mosquito repellent.

What's on in Peru

The Lord of the Miracles Festival (October) is the most spectacular of Peru's religious festivals, with tens of thousands of participants dressed in bright purple. The Fiesta de la Vendimia de Surco (March) is a wine festival held in celebration of the grape harvest, and featuring fascinating cultural performances.

Did you know?

-Avocado pears (palta) are originally from Peru.

-The Peruvian root known as Huanarpo Macha is what Viagra is made from.

-There are more species of bird in Peru (1,701) than in any other country.

A final word

Famous Machu Picchu is only one of the wonders that adventurous explorers will find in beautiful and mysterious Peru.

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