UAE: A Modern Oasis in the Desert

When you think of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), what comes to mind? Probably images of Dubai, the tallest building in the world, opulent hotels, artificial islands, expensive cars, super-sized malls, and oil. Well, you are not wrong. But there is a lot more to the UAE than its tall buildings, state of the art infrastructure, desert landscapes, and rich culture and traditions.

The culture of the country reflects Islam, Bedouin, and Arab culture, and this is depicted in their clothing, architecture, music, cuisine, and lifestyle. Islam is embedded in their way of life. Local people are supposed to pray five times a day, so you will frequently see mosques scattered throughout the city and prayer rooms in public buildings like malls. Despite being a Muslim country, the UAE accommodates the non-Muslim residents quite well.


One of the seven emirates that comprise the UAE, Dubai is a global hub with cosmopolitan culture. With a myriad of attractions Dubai offers you on the platter, you are sure to be spoilt for choice. Haggle over gold, at the Gold Souk, one of the most colorful shopping destinations in the country. Sample dates at the Date Souk and take in the enticing aromas of the Spice Souk. Visit Burj Khalifa, world’s tallest building that stands as a testament to Dubai’s burning desire to continually attain new heights.

After taking a tour of the skyscraping sights, contrast your experience with an Abra ride on Dubai Creek, which is Dubai’s traditional transport for centuries. Right on Dubai’s doorstep is the Arabian Desert, and what better way to experience it than by going on a desert safari. Cruise over sand dunes in a 4×4, surf the dunes, and feast on a desert barbeque underneath the starlit desert sky. Your visit to Dubai wouldn’t be complete without seeing the insides of one of its famous mosques, Jumeirah Mosque, the only Dubai mosque that welcomes non-Muslims.

A beach lover’s paradise, Dubai offers a range of options for fun in the sun. There are plenty of sand stretches that are ideal for sunbathing or indulging in a variety of water sports. Pack a picnic and head over to the famous Jumeirah Beach for a sunny day out.

Abu Dhabi

Less extravagant than its neighbor Dubai, Abu Dhabi is a land of contrasts where luxury and modernity are skilfully mixed with Bedouin traditions. Between ocean and desert, dive into the heart of a booming tourist city, in a setting worthy of the Arabian Nights. Hard to imagine that half a century ago, before making a fortune in oil, the glittering and neat capital of the United Arab Emirates was still a small fishing village of pearls and fish. Today, skyscrapers and shopping malls, true temples of shopping thrive alongside the authentic sites like Al-Hosn Palace and the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque. The mosque is the largest mosque in the country and features an immaculate display of artistry, design, and precision. It features 82 domes, over 1,000 columns, 24-karat gold gilded chandeliers, and the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet.

As a family, enjoy unforgettable moments in the Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld theme parks or enjoy a camel safari in the desert. The Corniche Road spreads across eight kilometers of manicured waterfront that includes children’s play areas, separate cycle and pedestrian pathways, cafés and restaurants, and the Corniche Beach.


Sharjah’s story takes you on a journey through 5,000 years of history from valuable archaeological sites to pristine wilderness areas. Sharjah is a modern cosmopolitan metropolis with deep-rooted traditions. Islamic customs are central to all aspects of culture today, as they have been throughout Sharjah’s history. Courtesy and hospitability are highly prized virtues, and you are likely to experience the genuine warmth and friendliness of the local people. Explore Old Sharjah by walking among the coral stone buildings and labyrinthine passages and step back in time some 200 years, before the discovery of oil.

The array of museums, galleries, and heritage sites provide unique insight into Arabic history. It is easy to soak up the culture by strolling amongst the traditional architecture, timeless dhows, and atmospheric souks. As well as being an impressive insight into tradition, and offering fantastic photo opportunities, the souks of Sharjah are great for souvenirs. You can find restaurants and cafes showcasing the best of Arabic, Asian, and international food. From diving to mountain biking, desert driving to dhow cruising and paddle boarding, there is something for everyone. Sharjah is an ideal base to explore the rest of the Arabian Peninsula.


Thailand: Land of Smiles

Thailand has the distinction among Southeast Asian nations of never having been colonized. It has not suffered a civil war nor the racial conflicts that have at one time or another plagued other countries in the region. Thailand’s escape from the domination of foreign powers for an extended period of time is reflected in the nature of Thai people. They are fiercely proud and independent.

Here you will encounter a paradox: an ancient culture juxtaposed against a vibrant, dynamic modern age. Thailand’s past, represented in its art, architecture, and religion, is itself reason enough to visit the country. But add to this a surfeit of natural beauty, ease of traveling to all regions, safety, superb cuisine, and the traditional friendliness and hospitality of the Thai people, and you will end up with an exceptional country.


In Bangkok, the East does more than meet West – it collides it with a thunderous explosion. You’ll find traffic jams, bustling crowds, towering buildings, a neon-pulsing nightlife, unashamed consumerism in gigantic shopping malls, fashion-conscious people, and a fair share of street hustlers.

Then take another look: Buddhist monks in saffron robes ride the city’s modern Skytrain. An elephant, being ridden by his handler, lumbers down busy Sukhumvit Road among the BMWs, colorful three-wheeled tuk-tuks, and smoke-spewing overcrowded buses. In quiet side streets, people make food and incense offerings daily to spirits in doll-size temples set on pedestals. People still greet each other with a traditional wai (hands joined in a prayer-like position in front of the chest, and head bowed slightly). Standing next to high-rise office towers, huge, riotously ornate temples, full of gilded images, are constant reminders of the pervading influence of Buddhism in the country.

Chiang Mai and the Mountains

Those interested in culture and the outdoors should visit Chiang Mai, about an hour north of Bangkok by plane. The capital of the historical Lanna kingdom and home to 700-year-old temples, Chiang Mai, is also a favorite jumping-off point for mountain treks into the hill-tribe country. Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest peak is close to Chiang Mai, and the hike on it leads to a beautiful temple.

Even if you’re not into hiking, day trips to nearby hill tribes are enlightening experiences, as are visits to elephant sanctuaries, such as Elephant Nature Park. For an exotic cultural experience, visit the Long Neck Tribe where the Kayan women wear rings to elongate their necks. Hire a scooter and ride six miles east of the city to Bor Sang. Popularly known as ‘Umbrella Village,’ the village is locally and internationally recognized for its beautiful hand-painted paper umbrellas. A significant region for handicrafts, Chiang Mai has several workshops along San Kamphaeng Road.

The Beaches and Islands

If you prefer sand and sun, Thailand has two coasts with gorgeous islands and turquoise waters. Both the west and east coast of Thailand are dotted with postcard-perfect palm-crowned beaches with white powdery sands. Located on the west coast, Phuket is a doorway to the nearby islands. In addition to being a party hub for backpackers, Phuket also attracts seekers of culture and outdoor activities. Phuket has something for everyone: from hiking along the coast to snorkeling, surfing, and swimming, as well as jet skis and parasailing for the more daring. Located three hours south of Phuket by road, Krabi is comparatively more laid back and allows access to Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, and Koh Yao Noi.

On the east coast is Ko Chang, which was transformed from a backpacker’s haven into a posh resort tagged the “Phuket of the East.” Closer to the water, mangroves proliferate, and clear water laps up on lovely, white beaches. To get through Ko Chang, you must pass through Trat, a small but thriving commercial enclave, and the sleepy port village of Laem Ngop, the launching point for ferries across the island.

Off the Beaten Path

Those looking to get off the beaten path should explore the northeastern provinces – what’s called Issan – for ancient Khmer temples and rural life centered on agriculture. Udon Thani is an excellent base to explore this region. Nature enthusiasts should consider Khao Sok National Park (fly to Surat Thani or Krabi – both less than an hour flight south from Bangkok) or Khao Yai National Park (108 miles/175 km northeast of Bangkok via bus, car, or train), both sanctuaries for indigenous birds and wildlife – including elephants! The ancient capital of Sukhothai is known for stunning ruins. The Loy Krathong festival here in November is spectacular.

Russia: Confining Entirety in its Immensity

Everything about Russia is monumental – its turbulent history, its astonishing cultural achievements, and its title as the world’s largest country covering more than one-eighth of the Earth’s inhabited surface. Understanding this vast land has never come easily to outsiders. However, Russia is a country that offers it all from historic cities and idyllic countryside to epic train journeys and an intoxicating vodka-fuelled nightlife.

Described as ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’ by Winston Churchill, the mystery of Russia has always fascinated and the raising of the Iron Curtain has led to millions of tourists venturing beyond the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg for the first time. The iconic city of Moscow is, without a doubt, the best place to begin exploring this stunning country, with routes such as the Golden Ring and the Trans-Siberian Railway offering the perfect chance to see both historical and rural Russia.

The Golden Ring loops around the northeast of Moscow and encompasses a collection of superbly preserved cities dating from the Medieval period. Here, you can explore the star-sprinkled domes of Suzdal, the ancient monasteries of Kostroma, the exquisite churches of Vladimir, and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city center of Yaroslavl.

Whichever Russia you choose to explore, you are sure to encounter passionate and hospitable locals who are likely to leave the most lasting impression on your journey.


The 860-year-old capital of the Russian Federation, Moscow is a truly iconic and global city. For many westerners, Moscow may look entirely European. However, the chaotic spirit of the city is never far beneath the surface. Today’s Moscow couldn’t be further removed from its humble beginnings as a small wooden town, as it quickly becomes one of the world’s most visited cities.

From its historical, political, and financial attraction for foreign business travelers to the world-renowned universities that attract students from around the world, Moscow is a melting-pot in every sense of the word with a superb dining scene and a fast-paced nightlife reflecting its cosmopolitan population.

St. Petersburg

Russia’s second-largest city and former capital, St. Petersburg is known as the country’s ‘window to the west’ and is one of the most glorious cities in the world. It is said that there are whole countries who can’t boast as many great sights like this one city, and this is plainly evident when wandering through the UNESCO World Heritage-listed historic center which is packed with significant buildings, threaded with winding canals, and dotted with Baroque bridges.

The ‘Venice of the North’ is an ideal destination for those in search of culture with countless palaces and art galleries, history with numerous historical figures leaving their mark on the city, fun with a legendary nightlife, and thriving café culture.


Although only the eighth most populous city in Russia, Kazan is commonly referred to as Russia’s third capital and the city ‘Where Europe meets Asia’. The capital of the Tatarstan Republic, the city, pre-dates Moscow by around 150 years and is the center of world Tatar culture – a rich Muslim culture with its own language, evident in the bilingual street signs and government. However, the Slavic Russians make up around half of the population and Kazan has become famous for its religious tolerance and friendliness. The pride of the city is its UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kremlin, and the renovation project to celebrate the city’s 1,000-year anniversary in 2005 has made many more attractions more accessible.


Previously known by its German name of Königsberg when it was renowned for its regal architecture and cosmopolitan culture, Kaliningrad now has more than a slight air of its days as a USSR outpost about it. However, don’t let the imposing Stalin-stamped buildings and Soviet monuments fool you. Kaliningrad is a wonderfully pleasant city with outstanding museums, leafy parks, and charming neighborhoods. The streets are easy to navigate, and the locals are always willing to lend visitors a hand or point them in the right direction.

Lake Baikal

Located in eastern Siberia, the astonishing Lake Baikal is one of the world’s oldest geological features, formed between 25 and 30 million years ago. It is the largest and deepest freshwater lake in the world and a treasured UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the summer, you can enjoy outstanding vistas across waters of the purest blue to rising mountain ranges on the opposite shore. If you are traveling in winter, you can marvel at the powder-white surface, frozen solid in temperatures well below zero and ice roads. The lake contains almost one-fifth of the planet’s fresh water, more than all the Great Lakes in North America combined, and is pure enough to drink from in most places.


Covered in palm trees and bathed in a subtropical climate, Sochi is known as the gateway to the ‘Russian Riviera.’ The city received massive media attention in 2014 when it hosted the Winter Olympics. However, the events in the games were actually held in the neighboring resort of Adler and Krasnaya Polyana – no actual events took place in the city of Sochi. The lively pedestrian-only sea embankment is the activity center of the city, packed with bars and cafés, and providing an idyllic spot to watch the sun set behind the Black Sea horizon. In stark contrast is the towering mountains which provide top class ski resorts. It is this combination of beaches and mountains that makes Sochi unique.


Philippines: The Pearl of the Orient Seas

The Philippines is a remarkable country in Southeast Asia, not only geographically but also culturally and spiritually. The vestiges of the Spanish era include exuberant parties, colonial architecture, and centuries-old churches. On the other hand, the commercial centers, the fast food chains and the use of English as an official language demonstrate the influence of the successor of Spain: the United States. Perhaps due to the mixture of all these influences, the country boasts a unique character. Filipinos are welcoming and optimistic, and that attitude captivates the visitors.

The country is the beach paradise with more than 7,000 islands for all tastes, from isolated stretches of sand to prosperous mega-cities such as Luzon or Mindanao. If you want to sunbathe and go scuba diving, you should go to Las Visayas, where there is a wide variety of pristine beaches. The more adventurous can camp on a deserted coast and play Robinson Crusoe for a few days. You can also go kayaking, kite surfing, canyoning, and caving. While surfers enjoy ripping waves, the divers experience the magnificent underwater world teeming with corals.


Not long ago, Boracay was a sleepy and almost unknown place. But things have changed, and a lot. The world has discovered Boracay, and this tiny island has entered the circuit of the great beach parties of Southeast Asia. But although it has changed so much, it is still a more peaceful place than Kuta or Ko Samui. And you can still find quiet corners, especially at the southern end of the famous White Beach, where the spirit of ancient Boracay is still preserved.


The metropolis is more than traffic and noise. The nightlife of Manila is second to none in the Philippines. From the locals for hipsters to the rhythm of bongos of Quezon City and Cubao to the seductive bars and kitschy Makati clubs. There are also excellent museums, and in contemporary art and design, Manila is the rising star of Asia. The gastronomic scene is leaving behind the bad reputation of the past with the popping up of modern restaurants, coffee shops, and craft beer bars.

Puerto Princesa

With a royal pedigree – it’s named after a Spanish princess – there has always been a buzz to Puerto Princesa, and if it’s your first time in the Philippines the town’s natural beauty will be highlight enough. However, over recent years Princesa has also developed a name as an eco-tourism hub offering a whole host of green tours, including the well-known journey to the UNESCO listed Underground River and its surrounding national park.

El Nido and Coron

Take to the pristine blue waters of El Nido on a trip to ‘heaven on earth’ for a day of swimming in warm waters, snorkeling amid clouds of colorful reef fish and corals, and sunbathing on the multitude of white sand beaches that El Nido has to offer. Head to Coron island on a boat and enjoy spectacular panoramic views of Coron Town and its bay from the short walk up to Mount Tapyas, the second highest mountain of Coron. Meet the Tagbanua indigenous people who have the dangerous job of climbing rickety scaffolding to obtain the cave nests of swallows needed for birds’ nest soup.


In Cebu, perfection has the shape of a beach. Throughout the island, there are spectacular coves and cliffs next to pristine waters. On the west coast, the reefs attract a variety of marine life. The divers meet in places like Moalboal, where the sardine banks are a spectacle. The islands of Malapascua and Mactan are paradises for divers (for whipping shark and turtles, respectively), while Bantayan is ideal for sunbathing. And in the heart of the island is the fun of the capital, Cebu.


Sagada is a mountainous corner in the center of La Cordillera, north of Luzón. It has all the ingredients to be a backpacker’s paradise: incredible excursions, mysterious caves, hanging coffins, strong coffee, excellent bakeries, and cozy, cheap accommodations. Here you can have muesli breakfast and go out in search of adventure, or spend the whole day by the fireplace in a cafe.


Although most visitors to Bohol are divers who go to Alona beach, the real charm is in its interior. Perhaps it is the best Filipino island to travel by motorcycle. There are paved roads that cross the jungle and pass by green rivers, chocolate-colored hills, zip lines with incredible views and populated with tarsiers, the native primates. The island was severely affected by the earthquake of 2013, but it has recovered and is better than ever.


Israel: Cradle of Religions and Modern Oasis of the Middle East

At the intersection of Asia, Africa, and Europe, Israel has been the meeting point of cultures, empires, and religions since the advent of history. Nursery for Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and Baha’i, the Holy Land invites you to submerge yourself in the abundance of its religious traditions. Before separating, Jews and Christians would have used the Roman synagogues around the Sea of ​​Galilee. Both Christian pilgrims and tourists can explore places linked to the birth of Jesus (Bethlehem), his ministry (Nazareth and around the Sea of ​​Galilee) and crucifixion (Jerusalem). For Muslims, only Mecca and Medina are more sacred than the Al-Haram ash-Sharif of Jerusalem (Temple Mount for Jews), perhaps the most disputed land on the planet.

Few countries have so much geographical variation in such a small space. The short distances allow you to relax on a Mediterranean beach one day, spend the next one afloat in the mineralized waters of the Dead Sea and on the other, dive in the Red Sea. Hikers can tour the country along the National Trail of Israel, soak in seasonal streams down to the Jordan, explore the oasis fed by springs and hidden in the arid cliffs above the Dead Sea, and admire the multicolored sandstone formations of the Makhtesh Ramon.


A spiritual center for three of the world’s major religions – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity – Jerusalem is a place which measures its history in millennia and eons rather than centuries. The religious importance of the city draws visitors from all four corners of the globe, eager to walk in the footsteps of prophets, pray in buildings which were constructed by order of kings and caliphs, and drift to sleep in hospices where Crusaders and Cardinals have previously slumbered. Every block, every building, every blade of grass seems to hold particular significance in the city which lives and breathes to the soundtrack of bells, muezzin’s call, and the shofar. Discover the foundations of the Old City by exploring the Western Wall Tunnels and Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Even for non-believers and skeptics, it’s difficult to resist the pure, unbridled faith and history found in this ancient city.

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is an always active, vibrant city, with fantastic nightlife, an exotic restaurant culture, and lovely weather all year round. Though relatively small in size, it is full of energy and feels like a much bigger city than it actually is. They call it “the city that never sleeps” for a reason! Tel Aviv attracts people of all kinds, from the bohemian artists to the savvy entrepreneurs. At the same time, it has some gorgeous beaches and a massive park to get lost in and relax from the buzz of the city. Famous for its long beaches, it is a wonderful place to catch some sun, go for a swim, and engage in water sports. Foodies will easily make Tel Aviv their second home. From trendy hipster brunch spots to top-level fine dining restaurants, cafes, bars, and bistros. The city is also famous for its markets: the colorful display of foods and spices, and the freshly squeezed juice make for an unforgettable experience.


The town where Jesus grew is a vibrant Arab city today. Its ancient and narrow alleys are graced with churches commemorating New Testament events and mansions of the Ottoman era. A new generation of restaurants has made the place a culinary star of Israel. Along with delicious traditional specialties, served with the usual Arabic hospitality, there are “fusion” dishes such as artichoke hearts with fresh herbs, and meat with wild pine nuts from Galilee.

Dead Sea

After passing the “Sea level” sign, follow the wheel down the mountain until you see the cobalt blue waters of the Dead Sea, bordered by white salt deposits, reddish cliffs, and tufts of dark green vegetation. In the oasis of Ein Gedi, you can walk through steep canyons to pools of crystal clear waters and waterfalls, before climbing to the plateau of the Judean desert or down to the coast for a brackish and invigorating bath. To the south, on Mount Sodom, proposals such as cycling by dry riverbeds await. The Romans had just destroyed Jerusalem when a thousand Jewish Zealots took refuge on a remote plateau overlooking the Dead Sea. Looking down from its towering redoubt, you can still see eight Roman camps, connected by a wall of casemates.


Iceland: The Paradise for Nature Lovers

Iceland, also known as “The land of Fire and Ice,” is a country with extreme geographic makeup. While it has some of Europe’s most massive glaciers, it also has some of the most active volcanoes in the world. Iceland is aptly dubbed as the country of light and darkness. During summer, Iceland has nearly 24 hours of sunshine while during winter, it only has a few daylight hours. Although Iceland is relatively a young country, its traditions are quite old.

Iceland has a diverse landscape that changes with through each season. For instance, as you travel in the southwest, you will find moss-covered lava fields. When you drive around in the northwest, you will find soaring fjords. The harsh natural environment of Iceland is brought about by nature’s unrelenting forces. However, the country has become remarkably resilient as it faces extreme conditions. The inhabitants of Iceland have also learned to harness the country’s natural resources regardless of these conditions.

The traditions and customs of Iceland are based on its history of isolated existence as well as a mixed influence of paganism and Christian doctrine. Furthermore, Icelandic folktales are shaped by an arduous environment and the natural resources. These tales often include ghosts, mysticism, elves, and even trolls.

East Coast of Iceland

Iceland’s east coast boasts of its lush farmlands, extensive forests, and a series of small islands and fjords. The east coast is also home to many natural harbors, small seaside communities, and fishing villages, which border the coast. You will be amazed by the impressive chambers of magma, which are filled with colorful mineral deposits. During summer, the east coast becomes a hub for creative minds both from Iceland and abroad as several art and music festivals pop up.

Seyðisfjörður used to be a principal ferry port town in the past, with its vibrantly colored wooden houses constructed by merchants. Today, it is a popular destination for artists, with a number of the homes being transformed into stores selling arts and crafts. You can browse for souvenirs before enjoying live music at Blaa Kirkjan, also known as the Blue Church, during the summer months. Head up the hills and explore the stunning scenery which includes cascading waterfalls and a lake that freezes over. For adrenaline junkies, kayaking and mountain biking is on offer.

West Iceland

West Iceland represents almost all the natural wonders of the country, including majestic waterfalls, slumberous volcanoes, a variety of wildlife and plant life, lush valleys, glaciers, craters, and fjords. You can set off to impressive hiking trails around Hvalfjörður and Akranes or just marvel at the beauty of Iceland’s highest waterfall, Glymur and the majestic mountain, Akrafjall, which are less than an hour away from the country’s capital, Reykjavík.

The city of Snæfellsnes was given an Earth Check award for its beautiful nature as well as being a sustainable local area. Not so far from Snæfellsnes is Dalir, which is the home of some great explorers, including Eirík the Red and Leif the Lucky. They are a father and son Viking tandem who were the first to set foot in America.


Westfjords have unspoiled wilderness primarily due to the region’s isolated location. It is mostly uninhabited, which is one of the reasons why it is a must-see destination for hardcore explorers. The Látrabjarg bird cliff located on Westfjords’ west side hosts almost half of some bird species of the world. It is also Europe’s westernmost point. The Dynjandi is a spectacular set of waterfalls, which is about 100 meters in height. Throughout the Westfjords region, there are numerous natural hot springs, even in the most isolated parts. The locations of some of these springs won’t be found in a guidebook – they are guarded by locals or just discovered by visitors as they are exploring the area.

Westfjords’ cuisine and folklore speak a lot about the region’s healthy relationship with the ocean. There are also museums that focus on creatures and monsters from the sea and witchcraft and sorcery. The region is an authentic Icelandic wilderness, which is ideal for spotting and watching unique fauna, birds, and arctic fox in their natural habitats.


Reykjavík is known as the little capital of Iceland as its population is just 120,000. There are only a few skyscrapers in the city as compared to other capitals of other countries. Although smaller in size, Reykjavík features activities and events that keep it pulsing and alive. More often than not, it is sunny in this part of Iceland. As such, picnickers and sunbathers fill the Austurvöllur, the green square in front of the Parliament.

Stroll down the Laugavegur, which is the center of shopping and dining. When happy hours come, you can settle in the outdoor seating of bars, grab a drink and enjoy people-watching. Entertainers usually line the sidewalks of Reykjavík while performance artists take the stage to present their surprise acts. Playful street art and playful murals are found all throughout the 101, the downtown area of Reykjavík. There are several art galleries in the city, including the National Gallery and the Reykjavík Art Museum, which exhibits the works of prominent Icelandic artists. In addition, small independent galleries showcase the contemporary works of both international and local artists. Most of the museums in Reykjavík are committed to preserving the country’s history and culture. Reykjavík has been designated as a UNESCO City of Literature.


Australia: An Expansive Stretch of Unspoiled Nature

Thousands of miles of glorious coastline and beaches, the world’s greatest fringing coral reef, unique and varied wildlife, the rugged outback
desert landscapes and lifestyles, sophisticated cities, tropical rainforest, and alpine national parks – the question is not so much what to see, but how much of it can you see.

Australia has intrigued the rest of the world for more than two centuries, with its fantastic marsupials, noisy and colorful birds, and incredibly vast sweeps of the outback landscape. Home to one of the world’s oldest human cultures, it is also a geological marvel, famous for the haunting monolith of Uluru, the tropical wetlands of Kakadu, and of course the magnificent Great Barrier Reef.

Queensland and Northern Territories

Queensland, home to the Great Barrier Reef, is the biggest tourist destination in the country. The coastline is glorious and the weather warm to hot year-round. In the south, the Gold Coast is a Miami-style strip of hotels, theme parks, and surf beaches that almost merges with the state capital, Brisbane. Farther north, the Sunshine Coast is mercifully less developed and includes the chic resort of Noosa Heads. Nearby Fraser Island is an interesting oddity – the world’s largest sand island covered in rainforest.

Australia’s crowning glory is the Great Barrier Reef, the chain of coral reefs and lush tropical islands that flanks the Queensland coast. No adjectives or glossy underwater photographs can adequately prepare you for the magical moment when you don a mask and poke your face into the warm tropical waters of this seductive dreamscape. Cairns, Port Douglas, and the resorts of the Whitsunday Islands are the primary bases for exploring the reef. Darwin, the capital of the tropical Northern Territory, is an ideal base to explore the Wetlands, wildlife, waterfalls, and Aboriginal rock art.

Sydney and Around

Sydney sprawls. Despite its relatively small population, it covers almost as large an area as Los Angeles and is seven times larger than Paris. The historical section of the city is known as The Rocks, a beautifully restored warren of alleyways and old stone buildings tucked away under the southern approach of the Harbour Bridge.

Pitt Street and George Street are the city’s two main thoroughfares. They begin at Circular Quay and stretch through the heart of downtown Sydney. Both streets are lined with glittering skyscrapers and department stores, as well as gritty old shops that have somehow managed to survive the scramble for building land. The juxtaposition of styles, old and new, gives Sydney flair. The inner east section has Kings Cross, Sydney’s red-light district, filled with pulsing nightclubs, fast food, and crime.

Western Australia

Western Australia is enormous and mostly desert. The coast road from Broome down to the capital, Perth – a 1,400-mile (2,255 km) jaunt – passes beaches, remote towns, and Ningaloo Reef – Australia’s longest continuous fringing coral reef. Much shorter than the Great Barrier Reef, it is no less impressive. Unlike its better-known cousin, it is easily accessible from shore – never more than 2 miles (3 km) out and in some places only a couple of hundred yards.

Farther south, wild dolphins come to play in the shallows at Monkey Mia. Thriving Perth is the green southwest of this state. On the city’s doorstep lies the historic port of Fremantle, and a day’s drive south brings you to Margaret River, a significant wine district on a scenic coast.

South Australia and Victoria

The capital of South Australia, Adelaide is noted for its year-round music festivals and sporting events, food and wine, long beach fronts, and its huge defense and manufacturing centers.

The Barossa Valley is an easy 45-mile (72 km) north of Adelaide, with ample signs to the valley’s main towns of Tanunda, Nuriootpa, and Angaston. Of the three towns, centrally located Tanunda is one of the most geared for tourists, with a pleasant main street and a wide selection of craft galleries, cafes, and B&Bs. Cheese lovers should follow Barossa Valley cheese and wine trail. Start at the Barossa Valley Cheese Company in Angaston and pick up a trail map.

If Australia has been an ark for unique flora and fauna, Kangaroo Island has been its lifeboat. This island has remained an unspoiled haven for wildlife and offers a lazy, rural lifestyle only recently invaded by luxury retreats.

East of South Australia lies Victoria, the smallest and greenest of the mainland states. Gold rush wealth flowed through the elegant capital, Melbourne, a garden city of grand Victorian-era architecture. Verdant mountains, wineries, beaches, and colonies of penguins are just a day trip away from the city.


New Zealand: Raw Nature and Happy People

With more than a third of its land declared as parks or nature reserves, New Zealand is the destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Here you will find immaculate beaches, volcanic plateaus, rolling green hills, fjords, geysers, impressive glaciers and a wide variety of flora and fauna. The country is divided into two islands, North and South, each with its own identity.

The North Island is represented by volcanic landscape surrounded by subtropical forests, high mountain lakes, and highlands covered with vineyards and meadows. It is the cradle of Maori culture which goes back to more than 700 years. Their culture, language, and traditions are part of the country’s identity. The folk songs, traditional Hangi dinner, Hongi (welcoming ritual of rubbing noses), famous Haka (traditional war dance) and the visual arts such as wood carving, weaving, and tattoos are integral elements of the immense cultural wealth of New Zealand.

The Southern Alps dominates the South Island. In its wild nature, you will discover rolling plains, snow-capped mountains, alpine lakes, glaciers, fjords and dense forests. You can even admire whales, dolphins, penguins and endemic fauna such as kiwi, kea, and yellow-eyed dolphins.


Christchurch is undoubtedly the most English of all the cities of New Zealand with its traditional neo-gothic style British architecture, award-winning botanic gardens, trendy boutiques, and pop-up pubs. After the 2011 earthquake affected the Christchurch adversely, it has rebuilt its urban landscape with an artistic, energetic, and refreshing vibe. The River Avon and the nearby gardens are reminiscent of the British heritage, while the Antarctic Center lets you experience the South Pole right here in Christchurch. The gondola ride takes you to the top of the Port Hills providing panoramic views of the city, icy peaks, and lakes along the journey.


Akaroa is an hour-and-a-half drive from Christchurch on Banks Peninsula. It was founded in 1840 by French settlers, with references to the culture still evident in the little township. Many of the street names are in French. There’s a festival every year celebrating the town’s French roots with entertainment, music and food. Akaroa attracts a lot of tourists, so there are a number of activities you can get amongst to experience the best of the Banks Peninsula. There are plenty of campgrounds in Akaroa and around the bays to pitch your tent for a weekend out of the city.


The capital of adventure, Queenstown is a dynamic city that is an attractive destination both in winter and summer thanks to its privileged location between lakes and mountains. Queenstown is the mecca of thrill-seekers due to the extensive adventure sports options: skiing, jet-boating, paragliding, skydiving, bungee jumping, zip-lining, rafting, rock climbing, kayaking – you name it. The city has a large number of hotels, bars, and restaurants, which contribute to the dynamism of the local nightlife. If you go a bit further, you can escape to the glaciers in the north and the fjords in the south. It is difficult to leave Queenstown without letting adrenaline rushing through your veins and your heart pounding through your chest. But if you’re looking for something slow-paced, you still won’t be disappointed. Escape into the nearby vineyards for a wine-tasting tour, sample the famed Fergburger, enjoy a romantic dinner with views of the mountains, or immerse yourself in the private natural hot springs in Omarama.


Auckland is the largest city the economic capital of New Zealand. Popularly known as the City of the Sails due to its thousands of sailboats, each part of this cosmopolitan city has a story of its own. Located between Northland and the green hills of Waikato with ancient extinct volcanoes, the Auckland lies on a narrow isthmus between Manukau Bay and Hauraki Gulf. Climb to the top floor of the iconic Sky Tower to enjoy the incredible views of the city and dine in one of the two restaurants that offer panoramic views. Experience a slice of New Zealand’s history in the Auckland War Memorial Museum, New Zealand Maritime Museum, and Auckland Art Gallery. Get close to nature by hiking on the extinct volcanoes of Mt Eden and Mt. Albert. Auckland has been continuously voted among the most livable cities in the world – another reason to visit the city.


Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and is nestled between the sea and mountains, at the southern tip of the Island of the North Island. The city has plenty of green spaces throughout the city and wild beaches just minutes from downtown. On the same day, you can take the funicular up to the botanical gardens, visit the National Museum of Te Papa Tongarewa, enjoy a delicious dinner with local wine at Lambton Quay and discover the kiwis in Zealandia Sanctuary. And if that’s not enough, Kapiti Island and Martinborough are less than two hours away by road. Cuba street is probably the liveliest areas of the city where you can dine, shop, indulge in activities, and immerse in the cultural vibe of the city.


Brazil: Kaleidoscope of Cultures and Landscapes

South America’s largest nation could keep you exploring for decades. Brazil has the Amazon, the Pantanal, and São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, just for starters. You’ll also find ethnically diverse culture, colonial architecture, remnants of mining and rubber boomtowns, and a rich artistic and musical heritage. With so much ground to cover—literally—you’ll need to plan your trip carefully and be realistic about how much you can fit into your days in Brazil.

A multifaceted, multicultural society, Brazil is fraught with contradictions. Carnaval, capoeira, beaches, fashion models and soccer stars, all-you-can-eat steakhouses, caipirinhas, and hammocks are a visitor’s dream, even as the country still contends with crime and poverty. As the legendary Bossa Nova composer Tom Jobim once put it: “Brazil is not for beginners.” For all their society’s complexities, Brazilians tend to be open and friendly towards travelers.

Rio de Janeiro

Rife with contrasts and contradictions, Rio de Janeiro is mesmerizing and musical, complex and sometimes chaotic, but never, ever dull. It possesses enough historical, cultural, and natural attractions to keep you occupied for months. The best way to tap into its pulse is by ignoring the clock, dispensing with schedules, and succumbing to its relaxing rhythms. Go with the Carioca—the term for a citizen of Rio—slow by not planning too much, and know that lolling on a mountain-fringed beach with an agua de coco (coconut water) and sitting in a neighborhood bar listening to samba and watching the world go by, count as Rio experiences, too. Tightly hemmed in between the South Atlantic and the foothills of the Serra do Mar, Rio provides an easy escape from the hustle of the city. The thing about Rio is that, aside from being drop-dead gorgeous, it’s suffused with a spirit of alegria (joy) that makes it quite simple, and effortlessly, fun.

São Paulo

São Paulo is as famous for its concrete as Rio is for its beaches. But don’t let that put you off. São Paulo may not have those incredible Rio views, that surf, that sea, but it is a beauty – if only behind closed doors. No city in Latin America can compete for the sheer variety and quality of restaurants, shops, hotels, and nightlife. This is where South America meets for business, where Brazil studies seriously, and where it produces everything from airplanes to the finest fashion south of New York. Visit Banespa or Terraço Itália (rooftop viewpoints) late in the day for sweeping panoramas of the city’s skyscraper skyline. Head to the Jardins neighborhood to browse Brazil’s best boutiques, sample the excellent collection of art at São Paulo Art Museum, and enjoy award-winning Brazilian food in the country’s two best restaurants, DOM in Jardins and Mani in Pinheiros.

Northeast Brazil

Brazil’s Northeast is one of South America’s great secrets, right up there with the Peruvian Andes or the Brazilian Amazon for spectacular natural beauty. Thousands of miles of white-sand beaches are backed by swaying coconut groves, sweeping sand dune deserts or caramel-covered crumbling cliffs. Fishing villages turned low-key traveler towns – like Jericoacoara, Pipa, and Canoa Quebrada. The coral sea is pocked with little islands like Fernando de Noronha fringed with turquoise bays and pristine reefs. The Sertão of the rugged interior is as wild and empty as the Australian outback with thornbush and cactus broken by beehive-dome mountains and towering table-top mountains daubed with prehistoric cave paintings. And then there are the cities and towns, such as colonial Portuguese São Cristóvão and Olinda with sugar-cube cottages, the crumbling Afro-Brazilian São Luis, and Recife with its decaying baroque cathedrals and art museums.

Western Brazil

Western Brazil covers a continental area, stretching from the Iguazu Falls in the far southwest to the northern reaches of the Amazon on the borders of Colombia and Venezuela. This is Brazil at its wildest, with a variety of terrain and scenery awe-inspiring in its scale. Iguazu is a waterfall as wide as a London borough, while the Pantanal is a wetland bigger than most US states. It’s the Serengeti of South America, and you shouldn’t miss it even if you have a passing interest in wildlife. Then there’s the Amazon basin itself: more than twice the size of India, with mountains over 2 miles high, sweeping savannahs and the most extensive tracts of tropical rainforest on the planet. The whole area is cut by myriad rivers, including three of the 10 biggest rivers in the world by water volume. And with such expanse comes great variety, from powdery white sand beaches of the Tapajos River and Marajo Island to the remote forests of the upper Rio Negro and Anavilhanas archipelago.


Norway: The Land of Dramatic Landscapes and Intriguing History

The natural spectacle of Norway is hard to exaggerate. The fame of the beautiful fjords, with their incredibly steep cliffs that cut the coasts, is totally deserved. But Norway is also a land of magnificent glaciers, which meander from the ice fields that are among the largest in Europe. The mountainous terrain of the interior resembles the walls of a natural fortress. And then there is, of course, the immaculate appeal of the Arctic. These geological formations are the framework of charismatic flora and fauna like reindeer, fjord horses, and musk oxen. Here are the top five places that take you to some of the most enchanting corners of Norway:


Tromsø is the largest city in northern Norway, and its 18th-century wooden houses add charm to the city in winters. Here you can explore museums and art galleries, relax in alpine gardens and experience two spectacular natural phenomena: the midnight sun and northern lights. Tromsø is an ideal destination for outdoor adventures throughout the year, mainly in the nearby Lyngen Alps. In winter, you can go for polar fishing, cross-country skiing, husky sledding or snowmobiling. During the relatively warm summer months, you can go horseback riding, walk along the glaciers and hike in the woods.

Lofoten Islands

Located in the north of the country Lofoten Island is an archipelago with a relatively warmer microclimate despite being well above the Arctic Circle. The steep pointy mountains surround the postcard-like villages inhabited by a large number of artists and fishermen. Watch for the old red fishing cabins, docked boats, and cod kept for drying as you hop from one island to another on a ferry, car, bus or bicycle. The islands are linked by bridges, so it’s easy to get around the region. In addition to exploring the culture, you can go hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, and deep-sea fishing.


Bergen is the second largest city of Norway and acts as a gateway to the majestic fjords. From the staircase of colorful wooden buildings along the slopes of the Seven Mountains, it seems like this place is drawn straight from a fairy tale. It was one of the most prominent cities of Medieval Europe and still carries the vestiges of the Vikings. Hop from one art museum to another, ride to the top of Mount Fløyen on the Fløibanen funicular railway, and peek into Bergen’s ancient past. When adventure calls, set off for a hike or mountain biking on the surrounding mountains and when tiredness creeps in, laze on the historic Wharf and watch the fishing ferries come and go.


Protected by fjords dotted with islands and surrounded by forests and lakes, Oslo is the only European capital where you can ski a few minutes from the city. Nature, history, and modern buildings blend perfectly in Oslo. The city boasts more than a thousand years of history, although it was not until 1905 when it became the capital of an independent Norway. After renewing its maritime façade and inaugurating several museums, the Norwegian capital, with nearly a million inhabitants, is one of the most significant artistic hubs of Scandinavia. Stroll around Karl Johans Gate, the main artery that runs through the heart of the city. Here you will come across Oslo Cathedral, Central Market, the Parliament, University of Oslo, and the iconic National Theater. On the opposite end of the avenue, the Royal Palace is perched on a hill.  Once the residence of the Norwegian kings, today the palace and its gardens are open to the public. Town Hall, Opera House, Aker Brygge, Grønland, and Grünerløkka are other places worth visiting.


Stavanger is known as the oil-city of Norway. Besides the oil, Stavanger is like a blank sheet of paper and not only because of its neat houses in the old town, where it seems you will blemish them if you touch them. But also because it is the outdoor studio for hundreds of artists who, for 15 years, have let their imagination fly, turning the city into a work of art that you never get tired of admiring. Walk around the old town among the well-preserved wooden houses and visit some of the city’s best museums such as Stavanger Art Museum and Norwegian Petroleum Museum.  Stavanger also acts as the gateway to two of Norway’s iconic landmarks: Lysefjord and Preikestolen. Lysefjord has 4,444 wooden steps (world’s largest) that take you to an altitude of 740 meters, and Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) was named as the best viewing platform in the world by Lonely Planet.