Category Archives: Travel

The reasons to stay a while

Most visitors race through Guatemala City, keen to get to Antigua’s colourful colonial streets, visit the country’s Mayan sites or explore its spectacular volcanic landscape. But stay a while in the capital and you’ll experience a buzzing modern city that’s emerging from the shadows of its recent past.

Inaugurated as Guatemala’s capital following an earthquake that levelled Antigua in 1773, Guatemala City has grown quickly after internal refugees flocked here during the civil war. Since then, crime has tarnished the city’s reputation and there are still some areas to avoid (ask any local).

But locals also feel that the city is returning to the “golden era” of their parents and grandparents – and it’s worth discovering for yourself. Fresh from her trip, Freya Godfrey picks seven reasons to give Guatemala City a chance.

 

1. Dancing in the main square is a thing

In the Parque Central, you’ll notice an imposing bandstand covered by an arched roof with swirling decorations. Twice a week, marimba and other music is performed live, and you can join locals dancing in front of the stage.

The Parque Central is also the city’s cultural hub. The National Palace here – often referred to as “The Big Guacamole” for its green exterior – now houses the Palacio de Cultura and regularly puts on events in the square.

 

2. You’ll find Guatemala’s biggest brewery here

Craft beer has just begun to emerge in Guatemala, with small breweries starting to pop up across the country. But, for the original Guatemalan beer, head to the Cervecería Centro Americana. The brewery has been running for more than 125 years and there’s even a museum, the Museo de Cervecería Centroamericana.

Take a tour around the museum’s red-brick interior walls, lined with large barrels and outdated equipment, from typewriters to original machinery.

 

3. Sexting is encouraged

No, it’s not what you think. “Sextear” or “sexteando”, which awkwardly translates as “to go sexting”, is the term used by locals for hanging out along Sexta Avenida. Guatemala’s recent regeneration is most evident along this road.

One of the city’s most glamorous streets in the mid-nineteenth century, by the 1980s, Sexta Avenida was crammed with stalls hawking all sorts of wares. Now pedestrianised and lined with sweet-smelling trees, the street’s grand buildings have been renovated and new businesses are opening up all the time. Today, it’s once again a popular place for a weekend stroll.

The next place you take your kids

Sri Lanka is blessed with all the essential ingredients for the family trip of a lifetime. Comparatively compact, with a colourful cultural identity, incredible wildlife and food you will never forget, this is the subcontinent at its most manageable. Rough Guides Managing Editor Keith Drew has the lowdown on why this tropical island paradise should be next on your family’s holiday hit list.

 

1. There are ancient kingdoms “ruled” by monkeys

Most children will be able to tackle the climb up Sigiriya, a royal citadel remarkably perched atop a weathered hunk of rock at the centre of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle – though a head for heights is needed for the metal staircase that marks the final push to the summit.

After this, you should be able to fit in another sight before temple fatigue kicks in, so pick the former capital of Polonnaruwa. Fifty-five kilometres to the east, it’s colonised by macaques and enlivened with tales of King Parakramabahu I (and his 300 wives).

Where to stay: The ground-breaking Jetwing Vil Uyana is set in former arable land now returned to paddy-fields, marsh and forests. Large thatched “dwellings” share an infinity pool, but the best thing for kids is the variety of wildlife, including the rare (and ridiculously cute) slender loris.

 

2. You can learn to surf on a laidback beach

The best waves in Sri Lanka crash onto the long expanse of beach that curves around Arugam Bay, a low-key settlement in the southeast of the country. The vibe here is very different to the more popular west coast, and it’s a good place to drop out from a sightseeing itinerary for a few days.

Several surf schools run lessons for children around Arugam Bay and Pottuvil Point further north; Baby Point is an aptly named break to start things off on.

Where to stay: There are lots of rustic choices on the main road through Arugam Bay, but for something a bit more relaxing, head to Kottukal Beach House at Pottuvil Point. It’s a breezy villa with two family rooms in the main house and instant access to an empty stretch of beach.

First timers guide for travel

One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Victoria Falls are wider than Niagara and higher than Iguazú – and have more activities on offer than both of them combined. Rough Guides Managing Editor Keith Drew has the lowdown on everything you need to know about Africa’s adventure capital.

 

So which side should I visit: Zimbabwe or Zambia?

Both. The lion’s share of the Falls are in Zimbabwe, and it’s here that you’ll get the best overall impression of their epic scale – all 1700m of thundering whitewater cascades. The numerous lookouts that run along the gorge inside Victoria Falls National Park include show-stopping views of the Devil’s Cataract; precarious Danger Point; and the spectacular Main Falls, the largest single sheet of water in the world.

On the Zambian side, the lookout points in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park give you another angle entirely. Watch the water plummet over the edge from just a few feet behind the Eastern Cataract, or cross the sliver of a bridge to Knife Point Island for that in-the-thick-of-it feeling.

You can also climb down to the river’s edge to the so-called Boiling Pot, named for the way the water rebounds off the rock face to create a treacherous swirl of criss-crossing currents.

 

Will I get wet then?

When the water levels are high, from around March to June, you’ll get absolutely soaked, particularly at Viewpoints 9 to 15 on the Zimbabwean side and around Knife Point Island in Zambia. The spray from the Falls can be so heavy that the island (and its bridge) are showered in a constant “downpour”.

Wear quick-drying clothes and flip-flops and hire one of the ponchos that are available to rent on both sides – they’ll also protect your camera.

 

Do you need to visit Sierra Leone

 

Sierra Leone has everything adventurous travellers could want – exquisite, empty beaches fringed by palms, rainforest jungles with monkeys swinging through the trees, a fascinating heritage and warm, welcoming people. But its troubled history of civil war and Ebola means that few visitors actually make it here.

Now fully reconciled and recovered, this beautiful West African country is moving on and it’s time to return – before everyone else does…

 

1. It’s safe and Ebola-free – and it needs tourists back

Sierra Leone has had a rough ride in recent years. First, there was a bitter civil war from 1991 to 2002, leaving more than 50,000 people dead and 2 million displaced. Graphically portrayed in Leonardo DiCaprio’s film Blood Diamonds, the conflict was fuelled by the diamond industry and characterised by extreme violence, kidnappings, child soldiers and horrific human rights abuses.

At the end of the war, Sierra Leone was one of the poorest countries in the world. Peace brought political stability and democracy, a vastly improved economy and a remarkable reconciliation of its people that still stands strong today. By 2014, the country was back on its feet, tourists were returning and the future looked bright.

Then came Ebola. The deadly virus took the lives of nearly 4000 people and the entire country ground to a halt in a state of emergency and fear. In March 2016, the nation celebrated as Sierra Leone was finally declared Ebola-free. Intrepid travellers are slowly returning, drawn by the beaches, islands and jungles of this beautiful country – but it’s the people themselves, their warmth, spirit and sense of fun, that leave such lasting memories.

 

2. Some of the world’s rarest wildlife lives here

Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, in the Moa River, is just 12 square kilometres. But it’s home to around 80 rare and elusive pygmy hippos and an astounding 11 species of primates – one of the highest primate concentrations in the world.

Sierra Leone’s first ecotourism enterprise, the sanctuary’s profits benefit the eight communities that live near the island. Walking trails take you deep into the forests where chimpanzees, red colobus and Diana monkeys cavort in the canopy.

 

Alive and kicking in Paris

Forget about the sleazy tourist traps in Pigalle, there’s only one place to see burlesque in Paris: the Crazy Horse, opened in 1951. Eleanor Aldridge spent the night at the city’s decidedly contemporary cabaret to see for herself.

The room is dark, illuminated only by glowing champagne buckets at the centre of each red velvet booth. Then, to the strains of a sultry Britney Spears cover, the curtains open.

Launching the second half of the show at the Crazy Horse tonight is Undress to Kill, a striptease like no other, designed by Dita Von Teese. The dancer is completely nude, dressed instead in Le Crazy’s signature projections – a backless red dress slowly morphs into an intricate veil of lace as the performer leans in and out of the light.

This is Totally Crazy, the cabaret’s new show for 2017. Modern burlesque meets high fashion; it’s a riot of spectacular lighting, barely-there costumes, beat-perfect choreography and angular fluoro wigs. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun.

Today, the Crazy Horse is the most famous cabaret in the city. The artistic vision of Andrée Deissenberg, previously of Cirque du Soleil, it’s become a Parisian institution, renowned for its celebration of femininity and beauty. Under the guidance of Creative Director Ali Mahdavi, they aim to glorify “the powerful, dominant, insubordinate female” – essentially women who like to run the show.

Since Andrée took the reins ten years ago, Le Crazy has gone from strength to strength, with Dita Von Teese by no means the most famous collaborator. The last few years have seen famous faces such as Conchita Wurst take to the stage, and the star-studded audience range from Rihanna and John Legend to Cara Delevingne and Jean Paul Gaultier.