Right outside of the walled city, the neighborhood of Getsemani is more authentic and edgier than the old town. If inside the walls it’s all about colonial architecture and colorful flowers, here it’s about street art, street life and Afro-Caribbean heritage. There are still plenty of tourists and charming hotels and restaurants, but it does feel much more real.
Cartagena de Indias is a UNESCO Heritage Site, and regularly tops the list of most beautiful colonial cities around the world. This reputation is well deserved. Cartagena can easily be visited on foot in a couple of days, but it’s also the kind of place where you won’t regret having extra time.
Last week, I had a chance to visit Tokyo on the back of a business trip… and it was an incredible experience! Despite it being such a large city, it is very easy to move around on foot and using the metro (once I figured out how to get a Suica or Pasmo card), and I was able to check out all these top spots in about two days. Here they are, in a very non-scientific order of preference:
- The pyramids of Giza
- The temples and tombs around Luxor
- Diving in the Red Sea, especially the Thistlegorm wreck
Cairo was the first stop in our Egypt + Jordan trip. Before hitting the pyramids, we had a day to explore the hectic capital, daunting with its 22 million people and crazy traffic.
We started the day at the famous Egyptian museum, where we tried to arrive around 8am (opening time) to avoid as much of the tourist crowds as possible. The ticket was 350 Egyptian pounds (~$20), including the mummies and camera (and I wished I had brought my student ID, because it gets you 50% off pretty much everywhere). The museum is not as massive as e.g., the Hermitage, but there is a ton of stuff and it’s not particularly well organized nor digestible. It took us over 3 hours to see just the highlights and wander around a bit. My favorites were the large sarcophagus in the old kingdom rooms, the intricate pieces in the Amarna room, all the Tutankhamun treasures, the cute dioramas of regular life in rooms 27 and 32, the creepy mummies, the matryoshka-like sarcophagus of Yuya and Tuya, and the papyrus in the eastern galleries.
- Waitomo glowworms
- Tongariro Crossing hike
- Abel Tasman beaches and hike
- Cook National Park hike and the views from Lake Pukaki
- Road trip, and stop in so many great spots: lush hills in the North Island, Huka Falls, Punakaiki pancake rocks, Blue Pools, Lake Tekapo, etc.
At the end of our 2 week road trip around New Zealand, we spent 3 days in Queenstown. To be honest, it was one of the least impressive parts of the trip, it just couldn’t compete with the natural wonders of Tongariro, Abel Tasman or Mt. Cook. But it was a good point of entry/exit, and there was enough to do to keep us entertained, so sharing our favorites here:
This was a trip that I had been dreaming about for years, one of those epic adventures on the same scale as hiking in Nepal, driving through African reserves, backpacking across Southeast Asia, or sailing in Polynesia. Landing in Auckland, the largest city of New Zealand (though not the capital, that honor is reserved for Wellington), I looked ahead to an unforgettable road trip. The plan was simple: get in through Auckland, near the north tip of NZ’s North Island, get out two weeks later through Queenstown, near the south end of the South Island.
- Penang, its street art and food
- Diving in Sipadan
- Orangutans in Sepilok
Ok, let’s be honest: Kuala Lumpur is not all that interesting. Despite being one of the hubs of Southeast Asia, the capital of Malaysia doesn’t have the buzz of Bangkok or Singapore, nor the charm of Yangon or Phnom Penn. It might be a good place for an expat to live in, but in terms of places to visit, I would put it near the bottom of my list, probably below Manila, tied with Saigon and only above Vientiane. Having said that, there are a few sites to keep a traveler occupied for a day or two…