Talk about hidden gems! Located in Ipiales, next to the border with Ecuador, the Santuario de Las Lajas has got to be one of the most spectacular shrines not just in Colombia but the whole world. It truly is a sight to behold. Sadly (or maybe not) most tourists miss it because they choose to fly between the two countries. Is it more convenient? Sure, but they are missing out.
Founded in 1916 and built over the next few decades, part of what makes this shrine so special is its highly unusual and extremely dramatic location: on a bridge across a canyon. The altar actually stands in front of the blessed canyon wall, which makes it even more spectacular. Despite the convenience of flying, it’s worth travelling to Ecuador by land just to see this gorgeous church.
The world is full of overrated attractions, but Angkor Wat is not one of them. I mean, the temple complex alone – which dates back to the 12th century and is considered the largest religious structure in the world – is a sight to behold and I doubt anyone would ever even try to deny it. There’s so much to explore. However, its biggest attraction is watching the sunrise in front of the main temple building.
As with most of these sort of events, there’s a slight tendency for overcrowding. Angkor Wat is no exception. I usually joke that sunrise at Angkor Wat is an intimate experience in the company of hundreds of other people! Still, it’s worth it. I guess the trick is to try and get there early and claim a good spot. As soon as the sunlight starts painting the sky in pastel shades, you’ll quickly forget about everyone around you.
To say I spent all summer anxiously waiting for this trip to start is a gross understatement. I was finally going to see Mt Everest after a certain pandemic kept me from doing so in 2020. The excitement was real! I’d ran, walked and hiked a lot in preparation and felt ready for whatever the Himalaya was going to throw my way. Nepal was the first stop on my Asia adventure, and was to be followed by equally exciting visits to Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines – my first time in the country.
There are some places in the world that no picture can live up to. The Taj Mahal is one such place. We all know what it looks like but it’s not until you see it in person that you realise how big it really is. It’s majestic! Built in the 17th century as a mausoleum for the wife of a Mughal ruler, it has since become an iconic landmark – easily one of the most (if not the most) recognised in India.
Due to its deserved popularity it sees a lot of visitors daily, which is why visiting early in the morning offers a better chance of avoiding the huge crowds that flock to Agra to see this beautiful tomb. The interior is nowhere near as spectacular (it’s actually pretty underwhelming) as the exterior but the views from just about anywhere in the gardens make a trip to see this wonder of the world absolutely worth it.
After a lovely time in Porto Seguro (where I sort of wish I’d stayed longer) I hopped onto another overnight bus to make my way to Salvador, the capital of Bahia state. I’d read a bit about the city and was rather excited to be able to explore such a culturally and historically important place. What I didn’t expect was the city to be rundown to the point where safety is seriously compromised just by stepping outside. That was definitely a surprise, and not a great one at that.
Widely recognised as one of the most picturesque treks in the world, the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal is unlikely to leave anyone indifferent. I mean, it’s not every day that you get to be surrounded by some of the tallest peaks on the planet – some reaching heights of 8,000 metres or more! The classic trek starts in Besisahar (760 m) and progressively climbs to Manang (3,519 m) on the way to Thorung La Pass, which sits at 5,416 metres. It’s a strenuous endeavour, to put it mildly.
While I did have several favourite days on the trail, one the most special was definitely the acclimatisation trek to Ice Lake (4,620 m) from Manang. It’s a demanding hike that sees trekkers gain over 1,000 metres in altitude in just a few hours. The Ice Lake itself isn’t all that impressive (it’s a lake, after all) but the spectacular views on the way down make the effort absolutely worth it. The view you get of the Annapurna range is nothing short of breathtaking.
When people think of Gibraltar, the small British enclave in southern Spain, they usually think of the famous wild monkeys that roam around freely. While I don’t mind monkeys per se (you won’t find me playing with them, though) my interest revolved more around experiencing British culture in the Mediterranean and, especially, hiking. Namely, hiking up the widely recognised Rock – as Gibraltar is also known as.
There are a few easy ways to reach the top but I had my eyes set on a steep hike called the Mediterranean Steps. Living true to its name, it has no shortage of steps and climbing them can be a pretty gruelling endeavour on a hot day. Once you reach the ridge of the 426-metre peak you get a stunning view of both the Mediterranean Sea and the Rock itself, which immediately makes the effort more than worth it.
I’m not going to lie, I was super excited about returning to Brazil. The first time I visited – in 2016 – ended up being a bit rushed as I was at the tail-end of an 18-month round-the-world trip. While I did get to explore the city in the few days I spent there, I felt like it was a place I would eventually have to return to. Rio is a special place and you can feel its uniquely awesome energy pretty much as soon as you arrive.
Arriving in Bogotá after four months in Santa Marta was a breath of fresh hair. Quite literally. Unlike the intense heat I’d experienced on the Caribbean coast, the temperatures in the capital were much cooler. Thankfully, I had brought warm clothes so that was not going to be much of an issue. And to be honest, I was excited about it. I also missed rain (for some reason) and was hoping Bogotá delivered on that front. Ironic, seeing how I’d ran away to the Caribe precisely to escape the cold and rain.
Myanmar is a beautiful country with plenty of spectacular attractions to discover, natural and man-made. One of them is the Gokteik viaduct, a place not many tourists make a point of visiting due to its rather remote location. Well, not remote per se but certainly not on the tourist trail! I love railway bridges and this one seemed far too good to even contemplate skipping so I had to add it to the itinerary.
Built by the British in 1901, it stands at over 100 metres high over a deep gorge. To reach it you need to take the Lashio-bound morning train from a small town called Pyin U Lwin. The ride is quite uneventful until you get to the viaduct and the train slows down for the crossing, making the experience even more exhilarating – or terrifying, depending on how you look at it. Needless to say this one is best avoided by vertigo sufferers!