If I were to make a list of my favourite landmarks across the world, the Sydney Opera House would definitely be somewhere near the top. It’s one of those buildings that have always fascinated me, probably because of its uniqueness. Sydney was the last stop on my short Australia adventure and to say I was excited to finally see the Opera House in person is a wild understatement. It’s one of the most iconic buildings in the world for a reason.
Opened in 1973, its odd shape was actually inspired by a peeled orange! It is much bigger than people imagine and a lot of fun to explore. The whole area surrounding the Opera House is perfect for hanging out on a sunny day enjoying excellent views of the imposing Sydney Harbour Bridge and the harbour itself. Sadly, it was winter when I visited so I had to enjoy it in the company of a few raindrops. I look forward to going back one day, this time around in summer!
When people think of Indonesia the first thing that usually pops into their minds is Bali. Can’t blame them, really. And even though I’m not a big fan of the island, I can appreciate why people would be attracted to the lush greenery, temples, and white sandy beaches with crystal clear water on offer. Me? I’m more of a Java man. Indonesia’s main island has a tremendous amount of things to explore and getting to them tends to involve a fair bit of adventure, which is just the type of thing I love.
While not my favourite (or most adventurous) of the lot, Borobudur – an 8th century Buddhist temple, the largest in the world – offers a sunrise that rivals many of the best I’ve had a chance to experience across the world. Once you make it inside the complex you rush to the top of the temple to get a jaw-dropping view of these gorgeous bell-domed stupas (of which there are over 70, most of them with a Buddha statue inside) overlooking a misty Mount Merapi. It’s magical, there’s no other way to describe it.
Iran is a country of many beautiful mosques and while I’ll admit I’d probably have a hard time listing the prettiest (because there are so many!), whenever I think about it there’s always one that immediately comes to mind: the Pink Mosque. Its actual name is Nasir al-Mulk Mosque and it is located in Shiraz, a city that does not lack spectacular attractions. While the mosque itself doesn’t differ much from most of the other mosques in the country (it is actually a bit underwhelming in comparison to some, which is crazy given how impressive they all are) it stands out for different reasons.
So, what makes it so special? Well, this is a mosque that you should visit early in the morning in order to witness a unique spectacle; once the sun reaches a certain height in the sky and the rays start peeking through the coloured glass panels, the whole prayer room transforms itself into a massive kaleidoscope. It’s unbelievably beautiful, and a truly surreal experience. Those who get out of bed early are rewarded with the chance to briefly enjoy the moment in peaceful silence before the groups of noisy tourists eventually arrive to completely ruin the mood. Worth it, though!
One of the downsides of living in London is the lack of wild nature. There are plenty of parks, but fans of the outdoors like me are unlikely to be fully satisfied with a green lawn and some trees. Thankfully there are a few good options just a couple of hours away by train, one of them being Durdle Door – a massive rock formation on the Dorset coast that is nothing short of stunning. You can reach it the easy way by driving there, or the hard way by taking an early train to Weymouth and walking to Lulworth Cove for the train back to London.
This is actually a very popular hike (not as popular as the Seven Sisters, though) and chances of being completely alone are quite slim. Still, the 18-kilometre trek offers excellent views of rocky cliffs throughout. It also offers a decent physical challenge since some of the cliffs are very steep and the wind is relentlessly ever-present. Despite this, since the Durdle Door is located near the end of the trail, the reward for the effort couldn’t be better. One of the funnest day trips from London, no doubt.
One thing that always breaks my heart is talking to people who’ve been to Vietnam and learn they took a bus from Hue straight to Hoi An. A bus! It’s a shame because, even though it may be easier, it doesn’t quite compare to the beauty that is riding the SE3 train. Granted the train doesn’t go all the way to Hoi An and a taxi may be needed to complete the last stretch of the ride, but with views like this does it really matter?
The train ride starts slowly but quickly picks up the pace. For about an hour or so nothing really happens apart from passing the odd town, but then… the quick change of scenery hits you like a brick. Suddenly you’re surrounded by lush greenery that seems to swallow the train whole, not to mention the outstanding views of the sea! This stretch of the SE3 route is considered one of the most scenic in the world for a reason, too bad so many tourists overlook it.
For lovers of ancient civilisations, few places are as exciting as the Yucatán Peninsula in southeastern Mexico. The amount of incredibly preserved Mayan ruins to discover, each one better than the next, makes it an authentic playground for explorers and history lovers alike. While not my favourite of the lot (that would have to be Palenque), Chichen Itza is by far the most impressive. There’s a reason it is the most recognised Mayan ruin in the world!
Contrary to popular belief, the famous limestone pyramid is actually called Temple of Kukulcán and is part of a much larger (and very interesting) complex called… Chichen Itza! The pyramid sits in the middle of an archeological site where a large Mayan city existed some 1,500 years ago. While the surrounding ruins are extremely well preserved and a delight to explore, its imposing scale unsurprisingly makes Kukulcán the crown jewel of Chichen Itza.
After my time in Riohacha came to an end, I had two options: go back to Santa Marta, or make a brief stop in Palomino – a sleepy coastal town with a tremendous reputation among backpackers, located somewhere between both cities. Since Palomino already featured on my list of places to visit before I left Colombia I figured it would make much more sense to visit it now rather than having to come back some other time.
When it comes to public squares, Europe is a hard place to beat. That’s a fact. There are thousands of them, each one prettier than the next. Spain, for example, is well known for its magnificent plazas. And even though I haven’t yet had a chance to visit them all, I think Plaza de España will forever be my favourite. Located in Seville, the capital of the Andalucia region, it takes little time to conquer the heart of anyone who visits it.
Built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, this huge half-circle square is a marvel to look at. While the walls feature impressive tiles representing each of the Spanish provinces, its most striking detail is the artificial lake that runs across its length. During the day boats can be rented and visitors make the most of it by rowing up and down the lake. It’s a fantastic sight, and one of the reasons that make it one of my favourite squares in the world.
One of the disadvantages of sleeping on the beach is that once the sun is up you can’t really sleep anymore. Which wasn’t all that bad because we had a long day ahead of us. After a tasty breakfast, we waited for the other groups to get ready (since we were all moving together in a sort of convoy) and headed towards the first stop of the day: the Parque Eólico de Jepirachi. A wind farm, basically. It was fun to get close to the towering wind turbines although they’re not much of an attraction per se.
I’m not much of a waterfall kind of guy. I mean, I do like them when they’re big and spectacular but otherwise they just fail to grab my attention. As such, you won’t be surprised to learn that when I travel I’m very cautious about going out of my way to see a waterfall. It’s a rare occasion, let’s put it that way. The Pailón del Diablo, however, is one of those exceptions that didn’t make me think twice. I simply had to see it.
Located near the small town of Baños, the best way to get there is by renting a mountain bike and making your way through the spectacular Ruta de las Cascadas. What awaits at the other end is the aptly named Pailón del Diablo, or Devil’s Cauldron: an impressive waterfall with a viewpoint that’ll make you feel like you’re in a Lord of the Rings movie. You’ll get very close to the waterfall and obviously drenched, which is part of what makes it so much fun!