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Only in Colombia…

Here’s something you might find mildly interesting: I don’t think there is a single country I have visited where I haven’t heard a local mutter a variation of “…only in this country!” It happens all the time. Really. Truth is every country has its share of problems, some more than others, but the uniqueness of the complaints is often… well, not that unique!

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#5 Uyuni, Bolivia

Welcome to one of the most stunning places on Earth: the Uyuni Salt Flat! Not just any salt flat, mind you, the world’s largest salt flat. Part of what makes it so incredible is the fact that it’s a desert of salt, sort of. This high-altitude adventure set above 3,500 metres is usually done as a multi-day trip from Uyuni (in Bolivia) to San Pedro de Atacama (in Chile). 

During the tour you are presented with a multitude of spectacular sceneries, each one crazier than the other. But the most impressive thing for me was the vastness of the salt flats. Since there are no roads or marked trails, the drivers really need to know their way around. How they manage, I don’t know. But damn, it is impressive. To this day I’m yet to have a more spectacular “5-minute break” anywhere in the world!

Sunrise at Cerro Kennedy

As Jack Torrance once famously wrote: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” So when Birgit – a lovely Austrian girl I’d met in the hostel in Santa Marta – mentioned she was going to Cerro Kennedy and asked me if I’d like to tag along I found it very hard to resist the invitation. What can I say? I’m a sucker for mountains (that much you already knew, I’m sure) and Cerro Kennedy was very high on my list of things to do in Colombia before I left the country!

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#4 Versailles, France

I’m always gutted when people tell me they went to Paris and didn’t go to Versailles. I get that the crowds can be a bit overwhelming to endure (to put it mildly) but this has to be one of my favourite buildings in the world. It serves almost as a window into the past! The palace is not fully open to the public but the fair few rooms that are will likely make any common mortal drool.

Especially the majestic Hall of Mirrors, by far my favourite in the palace – for obvious reasons. Did you know this is where the Treaty of Versailles (that officially ended World War I) was signed in 1919? Well, now you do! And in case you’re wondering why the room was nearly empty when I visited, well… it was -8 degrees Celsius and snowing outside!

Living that hostel life

Despite the rocky start, I quickly settled into a nice routine in Santa Marta. I strongly believe that you should never judge a place based on the first night you spend there, especially when things don’t go according to plan. It happens more often than you’d probably imagine and these days I flat out refuse to make rushed decisions until I’ve had a chance to sleep on them. Needless to say, more often than not, things do majorly improve the next day and Santa Marta was no exception.

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#3 Santo Antão, Cape Verde

I found out about the island of Santo Antão purely by chance and the more I looked into it the more I felt like I had to see it with my own eyes. Which is how I ended up there for a week or so around NYE back in 2017. After a short stay in Praia, the Cape Verdean capital, an inter-island flight to São Vicente (a neighbouring island) and a rocky ferry ride I finally made it to Santo Antão.

What awaited me were dozens of magnificent trails offering some of the most surreal scenery I’ve ever laid my eyes on. The island often gets called a “hiker’s paradise” and I can surely confirm that it more than lives up to the name. This gorgeous view is from the trail that connects Ponta do Sol and Cruzinha, without a doubt one of the most spectacular hikes on the island and easily my favourite. I guess the picture speaks for itself!

Why Santa Marta?

When it came to picking a place to settle down for a few months to get some work done I had some ideas in mind. However, there was one important requirement: it had to be warm. Even though winters in Portugal are mild by European standards, the atrocious lack of insulation makes them a lot tougher to bear. Especially, in my case, after living in London for over a decade used to the toasty warmth of central heating all through the cold season! 

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#2 Kyoto, Japan

Japan is one of the countries that managed to impress me the most on all my travels. I arrived with practically no expectations and boy, was I in for a surprise! While the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, the neon madness of Osaka, and the stunning natural beauty of Mt Fuji are all worth writing home about, it was one tiny temple elsewhere that really stuck out for me.

Kinkaku-ji (or rather, Temple of the Golden Pavilion) is located in Kyoto, the cultural capital of the country. You can’t enter the actual temple but, honestly speaking, that doesn’t really matter because what makes it so special is its setting. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a clear day – when the sun makes the gold leaf and pond reflection really pop – it can almost feel like you’re staring at a painting. It’s beyond majestic!

Another cerro bites the dust

When I said I didn’t do any sightseeing while in Bogotá I wasn’t being totally honest. 😅 There was one thing I simply had to do before I moved to Santa Marta. When I originally visited the city in 2015 I quickly fell in love with Cerro Monserrate, the 3,152-metre peak with an imposing white church overlooking the Colombian capital.

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#1 Giza, Egypt

The pyramids were one of my main motivations to visit Egypt and they sure did not disappoint! However, I was shocked to discover just how close they are to Giza – the Cairo suburb where the pyramid complex is located. I mean, I knew the pyramids weren’t located in some idyllic faraway desert but certainly not this close to the city.

As I walked around the dusty streets of Giza I couldn’t help but grin every time I saw one of the pyramids from yet another unusual angle, like this one. It was a lot of fun! Can you imagine having one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World in your backyard? Bonkers.