Begin a paddling sojourn in Indonesia by negotiating around the forest-clad banks of a holy mountain lake, before sea kayaking on smooth Balinese waters, or graduating to an exciting multi-day excursion in the more remote Raja Ampat Islands. Based in the Balinese mountain village of Kedisan, C. Bali runs morning tours exploring the volcanic caldera of Danau (Lake) Batur in inflatable canoes, while further south along Sanur’s beachy coastline, kayaks can be hired by the hour for leisurely exploration. In the far flung islands of Raja Ampat – around 2000km to the northeast – Kayak4Conservation explores a stunning archipelago of jungle-covered islands and concealed lagoons. Guided adventures include staying at local guesthouses.
ith more than 17,000 islands – and hundreds of thousand of different beaches – Indonesia offers some the planet’s best places for escaping into warm tropical waters equipped simply with a mask, snorkel and swim fins. On Bali’s northern coast, snorkelling trips depart from nearby Pemuteran to explore the waters of Pulau Menjangan (‘Deer Island’), while at Tulamben in eastern Bali, the WWII wreck of theLiberty, a US Navy Cargo Ship, is just 50m off the coast. Continue further east to the Gili Islands off Lombok’s northern coast for excellent snorkeling straight off arcing sandy beaches – sea turtles are often seen – or swim with whale sharks at Nabire in the remote eastern province of Papua.
Warm tropical waters, a huge variety of seascapes, and the attraction of abandoned wrecks and brilliant marine life make Indonesia one of the finest diving destinations on the planet. For beginners, the tourist-friendly dive schools of Bali and Lombok’s Gili Islands provide an introduction to the underwater world – including the opportunity to see manta rays and sunfish off Bali’s Nusa Penida – while liveaboard boat charters are the best way to explore the expansive reefs and teeming shoals of Nusa Tengarra, Sulawesi’s Pulau Bunaken and Papua’s Raja Ampat Islands.
Indonesia’s huge diversity offers many opportunities to discover different landscapes and cultures, ranging from enlightening day hikes through to multi-day jungle treks and ascents of spectacular volcanoes. Hook up with Sungai Penuh-based Wild Sumatra Adventures to explore the forests and mountain lakes of the Kerinci Seblat National Park or take on the challenge of ascending the chilly summit of Gunung Semeru, Java’s highest peak (3676m). Understanding Indonesia’s compelling mix of cultures includes easygoing day walks around Ubud’s verdant collage of rice terraces, sleepy villages and ancient temples, or exploring the fascinating local architecture and valleys of Sulawesi’sTana Toraja region.
From the beginner-friendly breaks of Bali, to brand new locations being discovered every year by intrepid travellers, Indonesia is a hotspot for surfers from around the globe. The southern beaches of Bali are packed with surf schools, laidback hostels and a pumping after-dark scene, while the islands of Java, Lombok and Sumbawa combine palm-fringed beaches and simple thatched bungalows perfect for a long-stay surfing sojourn. The massive island of Sumatra anchors Indonesia’s hottest surf regions including low-key Pulau Nias and up-and-coming Krui, while legendary Mentawai Island breaks like Pitstops, Telescopes and Bank Vaults are hugely popular with more than a few Australian and Brazilian boardriders.
Sixty five years ago, when Seoul lay in rubble following the Korean War, such a transformation was beyond most people’s wildest dreams. The priority then was to rebuild – fast. The results were far from pretty, but served their purpose. Seoul was the boiler room of South Korea’seconomic miracle, a non-stop city, crisscrossed by subways and elevated highways, its workers housed mainly in utilitarian, unlovely apartment blocks. Hosting the summer Olympics of 1988 and the FIFA World Cup of 2002 provided the impetus for some more imaginative city planning but mainly resulted in Seoul gaining new sports stadia and a couple of much needed parks.
The pivotal moment came in 2003 when Lee Myung-bak, then mayor of Seoul and later to become the country’s president, green-lighted a multi-million won plan to demolish a 5.6km stretch of elevated highway not far south of the imperial palace Gyeongbokgung.
Beneath the concrete at the highway’s base ran the course of theCheong-gye-cheon a creek buried in the late 1960s when rampant development and pollution had made it an eyesore. Two years later, the highway was gone, replaced by a pristine stream flowing beside sinuous promenades and under reconstructed historic stone bridges.
Striking pieces of public artwork, including the giant pink and blue swirl Spring by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, were also part of the design. The public loved it and the project was hailed a success for returning a strip of nature to the city centre, as well as naturally cooling the area and dramatically decreasing vehicle traffic.
In 2010, under the theme of ‘Design for All’, Seoul took on the mantle of World Design Capital. The same year it was appointed a Unesco City of Design. Across the city, hundreds of imaginative projects were softening Seoul’s concrete and steel edges.
The highways that thundered along both sides of the Han River couldn’t be so easily swept away, but the parks beneath them were upgraded. An old water filtration plant on Seonyudo, was transformed, Cinderella-like, into an award-winning garden oasis. The futuristic-looking recreation complex Some Sevit crowned artificial islands floating beside the Banpo Bridge, itself transformed at night by a fountain illuminated in rainbow colours arching forth from its girders into the river.
Ambitious design projects
Two key projects initiated in that period were so ambitious that it would take several more years for them to be completed. Finished in 2014, the inimitable design signature of the late Dame Zaha Hadid is immediately apparent at Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park. Billed as the world’s largest atypical building, and looking more like a giant spaceship than a convention, exhibition and shopping centre, the curvaceous structure is coated with 45,000 aluminium panels, and glows from pulsating LED lights.
Around it Hadid crafted a remarkable, undulating landscape that incorporates fragments of the area’s history, including remains of Seoul’s 15th-century city walls and the 1925 sports stadium that once occupied the spot. It’s one of Seoul’s most fascinating structures.
Also making a bold architectural statement is the new Seoul City Hall opened in 2013. The design is based on the eaves of a traditional Korean house, which provide shade. But if you didn’t know that, you might think the glass structure more resembles a giant wave, frozen as it is about to crash down on the former 1926-vintage City Hall (now a library).
Inside, the eco-friendly building’s lobby boasts a vertical garden that rises up seven floors and is hung with over 70,000 plants in 14 different species. Over the lobby also dangles Jeon Su-cheon’s Meta Epic: SeoBeol – a giant cluster of hundreds of translucent spheres symbolising Seoul’s dynamism.
Soaring towers and skygardens
From all across the city, it’s hard to miss the tapering fins of Lotte World Tower, the sixth-tallest building in the world, cutting 555m high into the sky. The 122nd floor of this sleek tower, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, will be the best place to take in Seoul’s full architectural sweep when the upper floors are completed, likely by the end of 2016. You can already visit the mammoth shopping mall, a 2000-seat concert hall, multiplex cinema and aquarium featuring South Korea’s longest freshwater tunnel and first underwater escalator tunnel.
In some cities, a night out means martinis, high heels, and velvet ropes. In others, even your good jeans might be too formal for the singles bar scene—and “after five” is open to interpretation.
“In Austin, people love to drink at all hours of the day,” says Lindsey Reynolds, a local food publicist. “Flip-flops and jorts—short jean shorts—are found everywhere, even at more upscale places.” That mellow attitude makes it easy to mingle, so it’s no surprise that the Texas capital made the top 10 again this year for its singles scene, according to Travel + Leisure readers.
In the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers ranked 35 cities on dozens of features, from hotels to wireless coverage, as well as the qualities that make for a vibrant nightlife, such as live music, cocktails, and attractive locals. In thesingles/bar scene category, New Orleans took the No. 1 spot yet again—thanks in part to that year-round Mardi Gras vibe, but also because of a certain homegrown effervescence, aside from any booze.
“We talk to strangers. We dance in the streets. We wear costumes for no reason,” says Colleen Rush, the editor of NewOrleans.com and a happy single herself. “It’s not difficult to dive in and meet people here.”
In Los Angeles, it’s all about dressing to impress, preferably on a swanky rooftop, while in San Diego, hipster beer purists mingle in microbrew tasting rooms. In New York, the No. 1 ranked city for diversity, there’s a bar for every taste—even a Lower East Side speakeasy-type joint that reportedly offers a cocktail with extremely aged spirits for $150 (a reminder to think twice before asking, “Buy you a drink?”).
Even in the cities with legendary nightlife districts—such as the Vegas Strip, or Miami’s South Beach—locals are quick to point out that the best scene is off the tourist path. “Most people think Bourbon Street is New Orleans,” says Rush, but she recommends Frenchmen Street instead, with its eclectic range of food and drink options and lots of live music—another category that New Orleans won in the survey.
Of course, a singles scene doesn’t need to involve any bar stools at all. In Austin, even the jogging trail around Lady Bird Lake can be a pick-up spot; according to Reynolds, “it’s meat-market city.”
Savour the serenity
Space. Glorious, mesmerising, limitless space. One of the least densely populated countries on earth, Mongolia is where the gods play golf. Endless fairways of treeless green, patterned by the shadows of clouds; lakes for water hazards; pristine air; epic silence – there is a reason that Mongolians refer to their homeland as the ‘land of the blue sky’. Occasionally the scene is tweaked by a lonely ger (yurt) of white felt: the portable homes of Mongolia’s pastoralists dot the country’s vast landscape. And when night falls, the stars come out to play. The Milky Way’s billions of stars appear so close and clear it seems like you could sweep them up in your hands.
Meet Chinggis Khan
Branded an imperialist during Soviet rule, Mongolia’s fiercest warrior is now a brand in his own right, adorning energy drinks, cigars, vodka and hotels. You might spot Chinggis Khan carved 60 metres high into the hills surrounding Ulaanbaatar as you touch down at the great ruler’s namesake airport. Near Nalaikh, a giant silver statue of the Great Khan can be seen shimmering from miles off. In fact, little is known about the ruler rumoured to lie buried somewhere secret in Khentii, a protected wilderness area. His tented capital, Karakorum, is long vanished, a pair of lonely stele markers at today’s Kharkhorin the only trace. For a man who founded an empire stretching from Asia to Venice, the Great Khan left almost no physical legacy.
Eat the world’s weirdest breakfast
Boodog is an ancient steooking technique still used today when herdsmen find themselves far from home. An animal – usually a marmot – is sliced open and stuffed with river stones heated on a fire, creating a primeval pressure cooker (they have been known to explode on occasion). The fur is then singed off and the meat carved up to eat. If you’re lucky you might get treated to this, ahem, delicacy as the morning sun warms your ger. It’s the preserve of men, which is hardly surprising – there’s no washing-up. A posher version is the khorkhog – a goat cooked with hot stones inside a milk churn.
Marvel at Mongol warriors
Eurasia was terrorised by the prowess and potency of the Mongols 800 years ago, and their skills are by no means consigned to history. Every summer, Mongolians congregate for Naadam festivals to compete in the ‘three manly sports’: horse-riding, wrestling and archery. Children under ten race horses across 20km courses; wrestlers of all sizes hulk it out (Chinggis Khan believed it a way to keep his soldiers battle-ready); archers pierce targets with deadly accuracy. The biggest Naadam festival is held every July at the National Stadium in Ulaanbaatar, but the remote rural contests are the true bastions of grassland tradition.
Sicily’s waters remain clean and warm throughout the summer and autumn months, with swimming conditions at their best from June to early October. Beaches range from crowded bathing lidos where you can rent sun loungers and umbrellas to stretches of nearly deserted strand.
Best for families: Cefalù
Cefalù’s long crescent of soft, golden sand is a dreamy place to spend a day… or a week. Basking here in the sun, gazing across the blue-green waters at the palm-fringed medieval cathedral backed by craggy cliffs, you may just be seduced into staying longer than expected.
The calm, warm waters – perfect for families with kids – coupled withCefalù’s proximity to Palermo (an hour away by train) make this one of Sicily’s perennial favourites. The town also boasts an enchanting historic centre, making for atmospheric strolling and gelato-shopping when dinnertime rolls around.
Best for scenery: Scala dei Turchi
Named Scala dei Turchi for the Arab pirates (colloquially known as ‘Turks’) who according to legend hid out here in stormy weather, this blindingly white, staircase-like rock formation is Sicily’s most dazzling beach backdrop.
Driving in from Agrigento (15km to the east), the first beach you come to abuts a shallow swimming area that’s perfect for kids – but older and more adventurous spirits will find it hard to resist climbing high onto the milky-smooth rock shelf beyond. From here, you can leap into the limpid jade-to-indigo waters below, or follow the stratified bands of stone to a longer, sandier strand just around the bend.
Best for solitude: Torre Salsa
Most people travelling between the superstar Greek ruins of Agrigento and Selinunte don’t even notice the turnoff for Torre Salsa – and that’s a good thing! Despite being one of Sicily’s prettiest beaches, this long stretch of golden sand backed by white cliffs remains remarkably secluded. Yes, you do have to navigate a rugged unpaved road to get here, but once you arrive, you won’t have any trouble finding a tranquil place to lay your towel.
The surrounding nature reserve, administered by the World Wildlife Fund, offers some nice trails with sweeping panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and coast; walking tours with WWF naturalists are available if you book ahead.
Best for nostalgia buffs: Mondello
When summer rolls around, Palermo’s entire population packs a beach towel and a pair of D&G shades and heads 11km north to this popular 1.5km strip of white sand sandwiched between the handsome rocky promontories of Monte Pellegrino and Monte Gallo. In fact, Mondellohas been the darling of Palermo’s see-and-be-seen crowd since the early 20th century, when a local aristocrat drained the surrounding swamplands and launched the fad of building Liberty-style (Art Nouveau) villas by the waterfront.
Drink in an urban jungle
You won’t find better views of inner city Jo’burg from a bar than this. The rooftop jungle that is Living Room (livingroomjozi.co.za) is filled with plants and fairy lights, making this spot feel like cocktail hour in the Amazon. The buzz of traffic four floors below strongly contrasts with this urban oasis. Opening hours tend to be erratic, so check before you go.
Socialise in a book lover’s paradise at EB Social Kitchen & Bar
Unconventionally located inside a bookstore inside a mall, EB Social Kitchen & Bar (facebook.com/EBSocialKitchenAndBar) is a test kitchen and cocktail bar with floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking some of Jo’burg’s most high-end suburbs. Laptops and tablets are not allowed, but reading a book or chatting with the stranger next to you is welcome. Sharing food is encouraged as much as sharing ideas.
Reimagine cocktails with a view at the Artisan
The Artisan’s (theartisan.joburg) cocktail menu reads like a classic fantasy novel: all the old favourites are there, along with some magical new creations, such as the Pink Panther and the Basil Dragon (a brave combination of craft beer, muddled basil, ginger beer, vodka and Cointreau). Head upstairs for an awesome view of Jo’burg’s loveliest and leafiest suburbs. When the munchies set in, scour the extensive tapas and snack menu.
retro-cool beverages at the Cosmopolitan Hotel
The vintage charm of the Cosmopolitan Hotel (facebook.com/pages/Cosmopolitan-Hotel/429188043935838) stems from the antique bar that’s as much a feature now as it was when the hotel was built in 1899. Relaxing in the giant red wingback chairs and then moving on to fine dining at the attached restaurant ensure that a whole night can be spent enjoying this retro delight.
Track down the 1920s secret speakeasy at Hell’s Kitchen
Relatively new on the scene, Hell’s Kitchen (hellskitchen.co.za) is fast establishing itself as a Melville staple. Its speakeasy feel comes from rooms hidden behind bookshelves, while the décor and drinks menu will have you wondering whether you have time-travelled back to the 1920s. All the food is prepared on an open-flame fire, making it a haven for meat-eaters. Look out for the Sunday specials that include a meal and a drink at a handsome price.
Find good times at the Good Luck Club
The Good Luck Club (facebook.com/thegoodluckclubjhb) reinvents itself regularly by showcasing a different local artist on its walls every week. The majority of the bar spills out onto the pavement, making this is an ideal people-watching spot while you sip on ice cold craft beer and snack on Jo’burg’s best dim sum.
Whether you fancy exploring through art, history, food or fitness, Los Angeles has something for you.
LA for art aficionados
Los Angeles’ cultural side is finally getting the recognition it deserves, especially when it comes to art. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art(LACMA) and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) have both been instrumental in shedding light on the validity of the city’s art scene, especially where modern works are concerned, and are worthy of several hours of your time. The Getty Center, located on the west side of the city, is another good option, not only for its extensive collection of antiquities, drawings, sculptures and photographs, but also for its free admission. Additionally, check out The Broad, a Downtown architectural marvel that opened in 2015 and which showcases 2000 modern pieces.
LA explores its multicultural side in museums dedicated to the many ethnicities that call the Greater Los Angeles area home, such as theMuseum of Latin American Art, the California Museum of African American Art (caamuseum.org) and the University of Southern California’s Pacific Asia Museum (pacificasiamuseum.usc.edu), which will reopen in May 2017 after an expansion and renovation.
If you’re looking for something quirkier, Los Angeles has it, whether it’s Glendale’s Museum of Neon Art (neonmona.org), Frank Lloyd Wright’s first Los Angeles project, Hollyhock House, or the cluster of 30-plus indie galleries around the Bergamot Station in Santa Monica.
LA for history hounds
For cinema buffs, Los Angeles is obviously a top destination, thanks to historic movie-linked attractions such as the TCL Chinese Theatre,Walk of Fame, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and the delightfully kitsch Hollywood Museum. Studio tours are also a popular way to see this side of LA, and don’t forget the historic hotels as well, such as theChateau Marmont and the Ace Hotel, housed in the former home of United Artists.
But there are so many other historic threads woven throughout the city. A good place to start is with the Los Angeles Conservancy (laconservancy.org/tours), a non-profit organization that helps preserve the history of Los Angeles county through education, including its popular walking tours of Downtown LA (aka DTLA). While here, head to Olvera Street to see the ‘birthplace of Los Angeles’ and its Mexican heritage – many of the vendors who operate the marketplace today are descendants of the original sellers.
Go even further back in time at the La Brea Tar Pits (here be fossilized mammoths and other long-extinct creatures) and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, or see the solar system and Earth’s tiny place in it at the Griffith Observatory. Trace the history of Chinese, Korean and Japanese culture in America through the Chinese American Museum, the Korean American Museum and the Japanese American National Museum.
LA for food fans
The beginnings of food trends aren’t exclusive to New York City and San Francisco – Los Angeles has had its fair share of mouthwatering moments, and might be considered the catalyst for a lot of the food mania happening right now in the United States. Trends such as celebrity chefs and food trucks were born in LA, and two of the hottest food trends currently – poke bowls and Filipino food – have arguably shot into the national spotlight thanks to chefs on the ground in Los Angeles.
This is a town made for foodies, so it might be best for your stomach to break it down by neighborhood. DTLA has the mighty food hall Grand Central Market, where you can find everything from oysters to ramen to the supremely popular Eggslut, where the lowly egg gets an upgrade, and the gourmet Arts District.
Ease into your first day in the ‘white city’ (known as such because it once had predominantly white limestone buildings) with some tasty eats atWayan’e, one of Mérida’s premier breakfast spots. Take your time over the immensely popular castacán torta (fried pork belly sandwich), or try one of their savory vegetarian options, such as tacos filled with huevo, chayo and xcatic (egg, tree spinach and native chili pepper).
Midday: take in Maya culture
With a belly full of pork belly, head north of town to the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, a world-class museum celebrating all things Maya, the civilization that once dominated the Yucatán and southern Mexico. The museum houses an impressive collection of remarkably well-preserved artifacts, including an iconic chac-mool sculpture from Chichén Itzá (a reclining figure believed to honor rain god Chaac). For background on Maya culture and history before visiting nearby sites such as Chichén Itzá, this is the place to go.
When leaving the museum, have a gander at the building’s peculiar exterior design, which takes the form of a sacred ceiba tree – said by the Maya to connect the living with the underworld and the heavens above. Buses running along Calle 60 will leave you at the museum’s entrance.
Late-afternoon: siesta time
Totally optional of course, but let’s just say Mérida’s steamy hot weather makes it all too easy to plop into a hammock and drift into a blissful snooze. And you wouldn’t want to buck a time-honored tradition now, would you?
Evening: regional cuisine and mighty mezcal
Come nighttime, hit downtown for dinner and drinks. For wonderfully delicious Yucatecan fare, swing by La Chaya Maya. Yes, the place is perpetually packed, but when you try the regional dishes such as recado negro (black turkey stew) or sopa de lima (lime soup), you’ll know why. It occupies La Casona, a lovely hacienda-style colonial building.
After dinner, mosey over to Fundación Mezcalería for mezcal (an alcoholic agave drink, like a smoky tequila) and music. Housed in a retro-styled bicyclists’ hangout, Mérida’s best mezcal bar features local bands and DJs playing everything from hip-shaking cumbia beats to indie rock and electronica sets. If the music doesn’t help you find your groove, the potent mezcal will.
Morning: early ruins run
Now that you’ve got to grips with Maya history, head out to Chichén Itzá, the best restored of the Yucatán’s archaeological sites. Many mysteries of the Maya astronomical calendar become clear when one understands the design behind the ‘time temples’ here, especially the iconic El Castillo pyramid. The pyramid’s four stairways have 91 steps each; add the top platform and the total comes to 365, the number of days in a year.
Mountainous Dominica, which lies halfway between Guadaloupe andMartinique, has a lengthy and fascinating heritage. An indigenous group called the Kalinago first settled there long before Columbus set eyes on the island in 1493, naming their homeland Wai’tukubuli (meaning ‘tall is her body’). When he arrived hundreds of years later, Columbus decided, somewhat unimaginatively, to name the island after the Latin word for the last day of the week, since it happened to be a Sunday. Owing to the Kalinago’s fierce resistance, however, Dominica was the last Caribbean island to be colonized – by the British – in 1763.
Dominica is still home to about 3000 Kalinago, the last remaining pre-Columbian people in the Eastern Caribbean; they reside on the Kalinago Territory, a 3700-acre expanse along the eastern coast between Bataca and Sineku that was established in 1903. The best way to truly connect with the Kalinago is by booking a home stay with a local family, where you’ll get the chance to learn about ancient and modern traditions, herbal remedies, culinary treats and local crafts (kalinagoterritory.com).
If you’re just passing through, swing by the tourist-oriented Kalinago Barana Aute, a cultural center and museum village. A trail loops past small huts (ajoupas) where locals sometimes hold demonstrations for basket-weaving, calabash-carving, cassava baking and canoe building. The ajoupas orbit a larger communal building called karbet, which is used for song and dance performances. Walk further down the trail and you’ll arrive at the Isulukati Waterfall, an impressive cascade that tumbles down the countryside and into the sea.
Music: Feeling the beat at the World Creole Music Festival
For three days in late October, Roseau gets swept up in the head-spinning, feet-stomping beats of zouk, compa, soca, bouyon, afro beat, calypso and reggae during the annual World Creole Music Festival (dominicafestivals.com). Created in 1997, it’s the region’s only festival pulsating exclusively to a French-Caribbean beat. Previous festival lineupss have included such international hot shots as Kassav, Wyclef Jean, Third World and Tito Puente Jr alongside local luminaries like Gordon Henderson, who’s credited with revolutionizing Caribbean music back in the 1970s. The party kicks off in the daytime, with bands, food and exuberant dancing and singing taking over the narrow streets of downtown Roseau before the lucky ticketholders boogie on down to Windsor Park Sports Stadium. An opening drumming and dance spectacle whips the audience into a frenzy even before the first headliner hits the stage. Day 2? Repeat. Day 3? Repeat. Then rest.
Arts: Discovering Dominica’s soul in its galleries
Dominica has a small but thriving contemporary arts scene with several galleries located right in Roseau. On Independence St you’ll find Art Asylum, the space of Earl Etienne, the country’s most prominent artist (avirtualdominica.com). His boldly pigmented canvasses reflect themes rooted in local traditions, culture and landscapes and often show off his trademark technique called bouzaille, a method that utilizes carbon flame to apply forms to the canvas. Ellingworth Moses, another Dominican artist, keeps a gallery on Hillsborough St (emosesart.com); while his early work focused on nature and the interplay of light, he now seeks to capture the universality of the human experience through an abstract approach, often using thread to express the connection between humans and the environment.
North of Roseau, stop in Canefield to check out the latest showing at the gallery of the Old Mill Cultural Center, a community arts center and home base of the Dominica Cultural Division (divisionofculture.gov.dm). Just inland from here, off Imperial Rd, is the Antrim Valley Sculpture Studio of Roger Burnett, a Brit who traded his engineering job for a life as a sculptor and watercolorist 50 years ago, decamping to the Caribbean in the 1970s (sculpturestudiodominica.blogspot.de). Call ahead for a tour of his studio and dreamy tropical gardens, and maybe even to enjoy a homemade lunch cooked by his wife, Denise.
But forget the zoo and the themes parks and even Ron Burgundy. The US’ eighth-largest city offers some less conventional and even unique opportunities for appreciating its fineness by ditching terra firma and taking to the skies and the water. Here are the best options for getting a fish/bird’s-eye view of San Diego.
It can be hard to get a handle on downtown San Diego from the street. More high-rise than you might imagine and more densely-packed than other Californian cities, it is also divided into distinct districts. Happily, some of the best places to get an overview of the city are from rooftop bars which offer sensational vistas accompanied by a tempting array of cocktails.
San Diego’s harbour is dominated by the two towers of the Grand Hyatt Hotel whose 40th-floor Top of the Hyatt bar gives unbeatable sunset views over the marina. Further downtown, on 6th Avenue, the Nolen (thenolenrooftop.com) attracts a more local, fashionable crowd, downing cocktails and local craft beer while gazing down on the goings-on of the busy, eating and drinking haven that is the Gaslamp Quarter.
Further north in La Jolla, paragliders emerge each morning from the clifftops at Torrey Pines. Taking advantage of the unique soaring conditions (westerly sea breezes deflected upwards by the sandstone cliffs) gliders can stay aloft for hours and land back on the clifftop. Unlike many paragliding venues, flying here is a year-round activity (although they do make a grudging exception for Christmas Day). Tandem flights (flytorrey.com) take you straight out over the sea where, floating above the vast Pacific Ocean and with dolphins and surfers sharing the waters of Blacks Beach below, you can see the expanse of the La Jolla coastline spreading out on one side and North County on the other. The flight even gives you aerial views at startlingly close quarters of La Jolla’s poshest clifftop communities. It’s worth sticking around afterwards for a sandwich at the Cliffhanger Café to watch others in flight and enjoy the views with your feet on the ground.
The best way to get the full panorama of San Diego is undoubtedly to take a helicopter tour, which in one flight takes in the city’s entire area. Most fly over La Jolla (some venturing further north up the coast to glitzy Del Mar) as well as downtown and waterfront San Diego andBalboa Park, with perhaps a swoop down to the Mexican border towards Tijuana. Variations on the theme include a stop-off for wine tasting in nearby wine country. These trips don’t come cheap – prices tend to start at around $250 for the most basic tour – but they do cover a huge distance.
If you’re a fan of classic Tom Cruise movie Top Gun, a trip to San Diego is all about visiting locations from the movie, and a combat flight over the city is the ultimate Top Gun experience. Admittedly less sightseeing and more adrenaline adventure, this is your chance to experience a flight in a fighter jet (skycombatace.com), complete with aerobatic manoeuvres and even the option to take the controls yourself. It’s wildly expensive but, for Top Gun buffs especially, unforgettable.
San Diego is very much a sea port and with its grid formation you often get tantalising glimpses of the ocean as you walk around. To get the best water views though, you need to head out into the harbour. Tours take place at regular intervals throughout the day in cruise ships, and give you a feel of the scale, depth and history of San Diego, as well as impressive shots of the skyline. The tours typically take you past the glamorous residences of Coronado and under the Coronado bridge, passing the military base (where you get an excellent close-up look at navy destroyers and aircraft carriers) and commercial shipyards with huge floating dry docks. If you want to turn the tour into more of an experience there are dinner and champagne cruises as well as blue whale tours on some days of the week.
Shaped like a crescent moon, Perak sweeps across the northwestern corner of Peninsular Malaysia. Limestone cliffs are the state’s most unmistakable landmarks, but Perak is a tapestry of mangrove swamps, jungles and beaches, too – terrain so varied that exhilaration (and exhaustion) are practically guaranteed. Here are four adventures to get your pulse racing…
Get off the grid in Royal Belum State Park
The only sound is a rhythmic swish, swish, as our boat glides across Lake Temenggor. We’re heading deep into Royal Belum State Park (royalbelum.my), a 117,500-hectare wilderness made even more impassable by its water levels. This jungly swathe of northern Perak, right against the Malaysia-Thailand border, was flooded in 1972 when Temenggor Dam was built. And in this remote nature park, the chances of getting phone signal are roughly the same as spotting the elusive sun bear.
The boat thumps noisily against the wooden gangplank at Belum Eco Resort (belumecoresort.com.my), my island home for the next few nights. While resort staff busy themselves securing the boat, my fellow travellers are already wriggling out of their T-shirts and dive-bombing into the lake. As we bob around in the water, the jungle chorus of whistling blue-rumped parrots and chattering crickets surrounds us.
At daybreak, we gather in walking boots and liberal coatings of mosquito repellent. Boat transportation and a hiking guide are essential in this dense, swampy wilderness. Ours is leading us into the 130-million-year-old rainforest, one of the world’s most ancient. It’s home to tapir, seldom-seen tigers, and rafflesia, one of the largest flowers on the planet. Along slippery trails we spot tiny orchids that cower amid tree roots, while grasshoppers whir past our heads like toy helicopters. Hornbills swoop between branches, their orange beaks easy to spot in the gloom.
Make it happen: Royal Belum is a 170km drive north of Ipoh, Perak’s main city (or 150km east of Penang). Daily buses from Ipoh reach gateway town Gerik from where you can get a taxi towards the park. Stays at Belum Eco Resort include boat transfer from Pulau Banting jetty, a 42km drive east of Gerik.
Board a Jeep safari to Kinta Nature Park
‘No other place in the world can claim to have 10 species of hornbills in one location,’ declares Jek Yap with pride. For Jek, a fanatical local birdwatcher, Perak’s wildlife is hard to beat. And in contrast to remote Royal Belum, some reserves lie in easy reach of Perak’s cities, like Kinta Nature Park.
Around 20km south of state capital Ipoh, this former tin-mining land is a tangle of low-hanging trees and teeming fish ponds. The park is home to around 130 species of bird, and it’s the region’s largest gathering place for herons and egrets.
‘Birds usually show up at dusk and dawn,’ counsels Jek. Despite Jek’s advice, dawn has long broken by the time I trundle into the park by 4WD. But hitting the ‘snooze’ button on my alarm hasn’t caused me to miss out: wildlife is abundant here, and much of it is barely troubled by the sounds of the car engine.
I can see grey herons alighting on fence posts, and plump little herons looking improbably weightless as they perch on fine tree branches. Huge monitor lizards dawdle on pathways. I’m poised to photograph a blue-tailed bee eater, but its flash of jade feathers is faster than my camera’s click. Still, it’s a good excuse to lay down my camera and admire the flourishing reserve, distraction-free.
Make it happen: book knowledgeable Ipoh-based guide Mr Raja for a guided 4WD excursion into Kinta Nature Park for RM400 per head (minimum two people). It’s also possible to cycle parts of the park.
Experience Gopeng’s caves and river rapids
The ceiling of Gua Tempurung yawns above my head. As I hike deeper into the cave, one of the largest in Peninsular Malaysia, every footstep sends echoes bouncing off the walls. Long spindles of limestone reach up from the slippery ground, and stalactites drip from above. Squinting, I can make out other walkers further along the dimly lit trails. They seem microscopic in size, dwarfed by vast folds of limestone.