1. The Galápagos Islands are situated in the Pacific Ocean about 1,000 km from the Ecuadorian coast. This archipelago and its immense marine reserve is known as the unique ‘living museum and showcase of evolution’. Its geographical location at the confluence of three ocean currents makes it one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. Ongoing seismic and volcanic activity reflects the processes that formed the islands. These processes, together with the extreme isolation of the islands, led to the development of unusual plant and animal life – such as marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, giant tortoises, huge cacti, endemic trees and the many different subspecies finches – all of which inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection following his visit in 1835.
The Galápagos Islands are home to some of the highest levels of endemism anywhere on the planet. About 80% of the land birds you will see, 97% of the reptiles and land mammals, and more than 30% of the plants are endemic. More than 20% of the marine species in Galápagos are found nowhere else on earth.
While the favourites for most visitors include the giant Galápagos tortoise and the marine iguanas, the feeling of being one with nature is the experience that many remember the most.
2. Moscow to St Petersburg Cruise – A relaxing way to visit Russia with day tours in Moscow and St Petersburg as well as the small villages along the six day cruise. The stops along the way were interesting as each one gave a different insight into Russian life.
3. The Lake District, Cumbria, England – A landscape photographer’s haven. The Lake District is one of England’s most famous and popular holiday destinations. Besides the tranquil lakes, mountain peaks and fells there are the market towns and villages and historical houses of important literary people. The heart of the region is the Lake District National Park, the largest national Park in England and Wales at 885 square miles. There are over 1,800 miles of footpaths making the Lake District a walkers and trekkers’ paradise.
The Lake District is home to Scafell Pike – England’s highest mountain, Wast Water – its deepest lake and Windermere – its longest lake. Strangely there is only one lake in the Lake District, Bassenthwaite Lake; the others are meres, such as Windermere, waters as in Rydal Water and tarns.
The Lake District is home to a plethora of wildlife, due to its range of varied topography, lakes and forests. It provides a home for the red squirrel and colonies of sundew and butterwort, two of the few carnivorous plants native to Britain.
The Lake District is home to a range of bird species such as the osprey, red kite, buzzard, dipper, peregrine and raven. Seasonal birds include the ring ouzel and the redstart.
The lakes of the Lake District support three rare and endangered species of fish: the vendace, which can be found only in Derwent Water. The schelly, which lives in Brothers Water, Haweswater, Red Tarn and Ullswater, and the Arctic char, which can be found in Buttermere, Coniston Water, Crummock Water, Ennerdale Water, Haweswater, Loweswater, Thirlmere, Wast Water, and Windermere.
4. Margaret River, Western Australia – A great place to chill out, especially for wine and beer buffs. There are over 120 vineyards and micro breweries in this small area, many with fabulous restaurants. As the area borders the Indian Ocean there are wonderful beaches and many world class surfing beaches.
5. Cuenca, Ecuador – A UNESCO World Heritage, Cuenca, capital of the province of Azuay, is located in the sierra of the Andes in the southern region of Ecuador. It is approximately nine hours south of Quito and four hours east of Guayaquil. The city ranges from 2,350 to 2,550 meters above sea level and has a population of about 350,000.
The dominant features of the city’s geography are also the source of its name in Spanish: the four rivers of Cuenca (meaning a basin made by a confluence of rivers). These rivers are the Tomebamba (named after the Cañari culture), Yanuncay, Tarqui and Machangara, in order of importance. The first three of these rivers originate in the Páramo of Parque Nacional Cajas to the west of the city. These four rivers are part of the Amazon river watershed. Cuenca is surrounded by mountains on all sides, with passes to the west, south and east.
6. Canary Islands, Spain – Gran Canaria, originally meaning ‘Great [Island] of Dogs’) is the second most populous island of the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago, with a population of 838,397 which constitutes approximately 40% of the population of the archipelago. Located in the Atlantic Ocean about 150 kilometeres off the northwestern coast of Africa and about 1350 kilometres from Europe.
Gran Canaria was populated by the Canarii (Guanches), who may have arrived as early as 500 BCE. The Canarii called the island Tamarán or Land of the Brave. After over a century of European incursions and attempts at conquest, the island was conquered on April 29, 1483, after a campaign that lasted five years, by the Crown of Castile, with the support of Queen Isabella I, a conquest which turned out to be an important step towards the expansion of the unified Spain.
The capital city of Las Palmas was founded on June 24, 1478, under the name “Real de Las Palmas”, by Juan Rejón, head of the invading Castilian army. In 1492, Christopher Columbus anchored in the Port of Las Palmas (and spent some time on the island) on his first trip to the Americas. Las Palmas is, jointly with Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital of the autonomous community of the Canary Islands.
My suggestion is to stay in or near Las Palmas in the north, away the tourist areas in the south. Rental cars are very cheap and self driving is the best way to see the island.
7. Iguazú Falls, Argentina/Brazil – The Iguazú Falls is located where the Iguazú River tumbles over the edge of the Paraná Plateau, 23 kilometres upstream from the Iguazú’s confluence with the Paraná River. Numerous islands along the 2.7-kilometre-long edge divide the falls into numerous separate waterfalls and cataracts, varying between 60 to 82 metres high. About 900 metres of the 2.7-kilometre length does not have water flowing over it. The number of the smaller waterfalls fluctuates from 150 to 300, depending on the water level. About half of the river’s flow falls into a long and narrow chasm called the Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo in Spanish or Garganta do Diabo in Portuguese). The Devil’s Throat is U-shaped, 82 metres high, 150 metres wide, and 700 metres long.
The edge of the basalt cap recedes by three millimetres per year. The water of the lower Iguazú collects in a canyon that drains into the Paraná River, a short distance downstream from the Itaipu Dam. The junction of the water flows marks the border between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.
Apart from the falls the Iguazú National Park is a nature lover’s paradise with butterflies and birds abound. Allow at least two full days to explore the falls and the National Park.
8. Terracotta Warriors & Xian, China – The Terracotta Army or the “Terracotta Warriors and Horses”, is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BCE and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.
The figures, dating from around the late third century BCE, were discovered in 1974 by local farmers in Lintong District, Xi’an, Shaanxi province. The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits near by Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum. Other terracotta non-military figures were also found in other pits and they include officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians.
Nearby is the city of Xian, which on first sight just appears as another huge, polluted Chinese city. However, the old walled city still has its walls intact and one can walk or cycle around the old city. The fortifications of Xi’an, which once was an ancient capital of China, represent one of the oldest and best preserved Chinese city walls. Construction of the first city wall of Chang’an began in 194 BCE and lasted for four years. That wall measured 13.74 kilometres in length, 12 to 16 metres in thickness at the base. The area within the wall was roughly 36 square kilometres. The existing wall was started by the Ming Dynasty in 1370. It encircles a much smaller city of 14 square kilometres. The wall measures 13.7 kilometres in circumference, 12 metres in height, and 15 to 18 metres in thickness at the base
9. Bali, Indonesia – Bali is an island and the smallest province of Indonesia, and includes a few smaller neighbouring islands, notably Nusa Penida. It is located at the westernmost end of the Lesser Sunda Islands, between Java to the west and Lombok to the east, and has its capital of Denpasar at the southern part of the island. With a population 4.22 million, the island is home to most of Indonesia’s Hindu minority. According to the 2010 Census, 84.5% of Bali’s population adhered to Balinese Hinduism, 12% to Islam, while most of the remainder followed Christianity. Bali is also the largest tourist destination in the country and is renowned for its highly developed arts, including traditional and modern dance, sculpture, painting, leather, metalworking, and music. A tourist haven for decades, the province has seen a further surge in tourist numbers in recent years.
Bali was inhabited around 2000 BCE by Austronesian people who migrated originally from Southeast Asia and Oceania through Maritime Southeast Asia. Culturally and linguistically, the Balinese are thus closely related to the people of the Indonesian archipelago, the Philippines, and Oceania. Stone tools dating from this time have been found near the village of Cekik in the island’s west.
The cultural centre of Bali, Ubud is a good base for your stay in Bali and I would suggest a few days stay at Sanur, rather than Nusa Dua (man-made enclave) or Kuta, which is not traditionally Balinese.
10. The Romantic Road, Germany – The Romantic Road (German: Romantische Straße) is a “theme route” devised by promotion-minded travel agents in the 1950s. It covers the 350 kilometres between Würzburg and Füssen in southern Germany, specifically in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, linking a number of picturesque towns and castles. In medieval times it was a trade route that connected the centre of Germany with the south. Today this region is thought by many international travellers to possess “quintessentially German” scenery and culture, in towns and cities such as Nördlingen, Dinkelsbühl and Rothenburg ob der Tauber and in castles such as Burg Harburg and the famous Neuschwanstein. The Romantic Road is marked along the way with brown signs. Allow at least four days to cover the 350 kilometres as there are many interesting stops along the way.