Monthly Archives: May 2016

Interesting castle that you need to visit

For one night only Airbnb are offering the chance for a daring traveller and their companion to sleep in the home of Bram Stoker’s Dracula – or so they say.

Bran Castle – all ramparts and towers – sits on precipice surrounded by impressive mountains in Transylvania, Romania, just like the castle described as belonging to the vampire in Bram Stoker’s novel. However, links between fictional Dracula and the castle are somewhat tenuous, as Stoker is said to have never visited Romania.

Whether or not it might have once been home to a fang-toothed blood-sucker, though, a stay in Bran Castle is still bound to make your hair stand on end. Its interior is all wooden beams, creaking floorboards and elaborately carved four-poster beds, and outside wolves roam throughout the mountains.

If you’re brave enough to try it out, take note of the house rules before you apply: no garlic, no silver jewellery, don’t cross your cutlery and know that “the count is not a fan of mirror selfies”.

TRAVELLING IN COSTARICA

Inspired by pictures of Costa Rica’s primordial-looking shores, rainforests bristling with exotic creatures and steaming volcanoes that tower above the clouds? You’re not the only one.

A steady increase in access to the Central American nation has helped persuade more and more travellers to stop daydreaming at their desks and instead book a plane ticket. If you’re one of them then consider this your beginner’s guide to squeezing the best out of the country. Here, Chloe Cann has 9 Costa Rica travel tips to help you start planning you trip.

1. PLAN FOR THE HIGH SEASON

With so many North Americans flying south for the winter – not to mention locals travelling home – it’s pivotal to book in advance for the Christmas and New Year period.

Both rooms and buses can sell out weeks ahead, but by being savvy and using several transport links (such as a private shuttle to one hub, paired with a public bus from there) it’s still possible to make things work, even at the height of peak season.

The week leading up to Easter is another pressure point to bear in mind, though the parades and processions that take place can prove well worth the extra effort.

2. CONSIDER AN ORGANISED TOUR

Veteran independent travellers might sniff at the idea of taking an escorted tour, especially in a country where hostels and hotels seemingly line every corner and English is so widely spoken. But with high demand, surprisingly high prices and few regular public bus services, a group tour means you can pack a lot of experiences into one 10-day trip without fretting about availability or logistics.

For those who can’t stand the thought of group travel, yet don’t want to plan every last detail in advance; hiring a car is another viable alternative.

3. BE PREPARED TO SPEND

Costa Rica is among the most expensive countries to visit in Latin America. And it’s not just pricey when compared to its neighbours – for certain supermarket items such as bottled water and sunscreen it can even rival the UK and USA.

To save some bucks eat plates of gallo pinto at small family-run sodas, pay for groceries and other small purchases with local currency colónes instead of dollars and travel during the low season (aka the rainy season) for reduced room rates.

4. CHOOSE BETWEEN THE ADVENTURE GATEWAYS

Monteverde and La Fortuna are two of northern Costa Rica’s backpacker favourites, and great jumping off points for outdoor activities. But getting between them can prove a lengthy process and much of the adventure offering is similar.

If you don’t have time for both, Monteverde boasts the trump card thanks to its drier climate and bohemian hilltop charm.

5. HEED THE CAUTION WHEN IT COMES TO THE WEATHER

Even in the dry season (between December and April) visitors to the central highlands and the Atlantic coastal plain should prepare for frequent downpours.

No matter how clear the skies looks at daybreak make sure you pack waterproof clothing and dry bags for valuables on any trips into the rainforest. And if the showers are dampening your spirits you can always head west to the sun-scorched plains of the Pacific slope.

6. LEARN THE LANGUAGE

You won’t struggle to find locals with good English, but picking up some Spanish can not only earn you kudos and a warm welcome – it can really boost your bargaining power.

Those with a good chunk of time on their hands can go one step further and enrol in one of the many local language schools that are scattered across the country, putting their Tico accent straight to the test.

7. RESPECT THE COUNTRY’S SUSTAINABILITY CREDENTIALS

Costa Rica has set its sights on becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral country by 2021. To help support its green aims opt for locally owned eco-lodges and operators that practice sustainable tourism wherever possible.

To help distinguish between the good, the bad and the ugly, the Costa Rica Tourism Institute has developed the CST, or Sustainability Certification program. Businesses are ranked from levels one to five based on their commitment to the cause.

8. SWAP THE PACIFIC COAST FOR THE CARIBBEAN

One quick fix for escaping Costa Rica’s crowds is to head east instead of west. With the international airport of Liberia so close to the Pacific coastline, it’s an easily accessible beach destination. The sands of the Caribbean coast, however, are much harder to reach, meaning the region is also much less developed.

9. TIE IN A NEIGHBOUR

Although they’re tightly packed into the waist of the Americas, each Central American nation boasts its own character, attractions and heritage. Next-door neighbours Nicaragua and Panama make the easiest and most obvious add-ons to a sojourn in Costa Rica.

Nicaragua is a more raw destination that’s best suited to intrepid, budget-conscious travellers, while Panama offers a cosmopolitan capital as well as lashings of more rural adventure activities.

Autralian on trip tips

Pack your stuff, throw it in camper van along with a surfboard and don’t look back… This might be an old cliché but it’s one for good reason: Australia really is one of the best places on Earth for a road trip.

Whether you’re living the dream in your camper van, or making do with a less romantic form of transport, Australia’s well-kept, open roads beckon and will lead you through astonishing landscapes. There are many great road trips in Australia, but here are our favourites.

1. COASTAL VIEWS ON THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD

Staggering ocean views and easy access from Melbourne make this one of Australia’s best-loved road trips. Pack an overnight bag and follow the dramatic coastline, stopping to view a series of coastal rock formations, holding their ground in the surf.

The magnificent Twelve Apostles – eight giant sea stacks – appear otherworldly at sunset, guarding the limestone cliffs. Among the other rocky highlights include London Bridge arch, the Bay of Islands and Loch Ard Gorge.

At Bells Beach, grab a wetsuit and do your best Keanu Reeves’ impression. This was the famous surf setting for his filmPoint Break, but it was actually filmed in California.

If you’re not a surfer you can hike in Great Otway National Park, say hello to the koalas at Kennett River or kayak out into Apollo Bay to observe a seal colony. Otherwise, take it easy at a beach restaurant in the seaside town of Lorne.

2. ADVENTURE ALONG THE WAY FROM PERTH TO EXMOUTH

Driving north from Perth, you may expect nothing of the Outback landscape but scorched earth and straight roads all the way up the west coast. While these certainly exist, a road trip here is also punctuated with remarkable geological features, some of the world’s best (yet empty) beaches and kangaroos hopping alongside your camper van.

First, a bit of fun at Lancelin where you can go sand boarding in the dunes or off-roading in a truck-sized 4×4. Then on to the Pinnacles Desert where bizarre pillars protrude from the desert like ancient monoliths.

In Kalbarri National Park, see Nature’s Window and the Z-Bend Lookout, abseil Murchison Gorge and ride on horseback around the scenic estuary at Big River Ranch.

A five-hour drive north brings you to Shark Bay, home of weird stromatolites – the oldest fossils on Earth – and the brilliant-white Shell Beach. Stop at Monkey Mia to meet the dolphins before heading on to Coral Bay, where another pristine white beach greets you. From here you can wade out 50m to the Ningaloo Reef – the second-largest reef in Australia – to snorkel with dazzling fish, turtles, reef sharks and whale sharks.

3. THE HOME STRAIT ON THE NULLARBOR PLAIN

The Nullabor is not for the faint-hearted. The mesmerising Eyre Highway runs through a vast, treeless plain, from Port Augusta in South Australia to Norseman in Western Australia.

With an almost 150km stretch that’s the world’s longest straight road, it’s no surprise that it’s known as “Nullaboring”. But many travellers love it for the beauty of the desert and the on-the-road camaraderie. There’s a strong sense of community at the roadhouses, which appear roughly every 200km – with nothing in between.

Venture away from the main road to see some of South Australia’s geological highlights, including Pildappa Rock – a 100m-long wave of red sandstone – or the peculiar rocks at Ucontitchie Hill and Murphy’s Hay Stacks.

From Denial Bay, the Eyre Highway clings to the coast all the way to Western Australia. At the Head of Bight, you’ve a good chance of spotting Southern Right Whales between June and October. Then there are the empty beaches, towering cliffs, the magnificent blow-holes – and the oddities… Eucla features the ghostly remains of a telegraph station protruding from the encroaching dunes, while Balladonia (population: 9) commemorates the spot where the Skylab space station fell to Earth in 1979.

4. THE BLISSFUL BEACHES OF FRASER ISLAND

If there’s one side trip on the east coast you mustn’t miss, it’s Fraser Island, a 123-km World-Heritage-listed sand island. Here, off-roaders may roam but the dingo is king.

The beach that runs the full length of the island functions as the main highway and an airstrip for small planes, so keep an eye on the air too while you bomb along the strand. Halfway down the beach, you can’t fail to notice the eerie remains of the shipwrecked SS Maheno appearing silhouetted against the raging surf.

Take a side road into the interior and suddenly you’re in another world – specifically, you’re in a subtropical rainforest growing on 200m-high sand dunes. Stop for a swim in the sparklingly clear Lake McKenzie, one of forty freshwater lakes perched high on the dunes. It’s like nowhere else on Earth.