Where to Find the World’s Most Beautiful Women

Chances are I’ll end up at a bar with a bunch of guys, and most likely the fact that I’ve travelled all over the world will come up, in which case the topic of which countries have the most beautiful women will DEFINITELY come up.  We are men after all, and exotic, foreign beauties have drawn men to travel through the ages just as surely as power and wealth.    In no particular order, this is my personal list of where to find the world’s most beautiful women, and why.  Ladies, bearing in mind the overall silliness of this article, feel free to share your own list of the world’s hottest men. 

Disclaimer: Beauty being subjective, I can assure all readers that every one of the 115 countries I’ve visited has no shortage of beautiful, smart and incredible women, gorgeously represented in an endless variety of wonderful shapes and sizes.

  1. Argentina

Latino girls dressed to kill with an attitude to match, there’s no shortage of head turners in Argentina.  I remember sitting at a coffee shop in Buenos Aires, amazed at the sheer amount of bombshells walking past me.   Where did they all come from? Where do they all go?  I got one warm lead who played me like violin throughout the week.   I should have known better.  I was forewarned that girls in Argentina like their “soup warm”, meaning, they like to keep their dating options open, but are notoriously non-committal. 

  1. Brazil

Well now, everything you’ve heard about Brazilian girls is true I’m afraid.  The way they dress with dental floss, the way they wear their sexuality so openly, the way they brazenly don’t waste any time.    But by far the best aspect of Brazilian girls is the way they move; the way a drum beat shakes their bodies (and their booties) like nowhere else.     They’re also loving, loyal, and wonderfully generous.  I should know…I’m married to one.

That one night in Bogota…
  1. Colombia

My last country in South America is Colombia, which battles with Venezuela for the most internationally recognized beauty queens.    Granted it’s a little strange how acceptable and encouraged cosmetic surgery is,  and a little sad too.  These are beautiful women, no improvements necessary.   At a night club in Bogota I couldn’t believe how genuinely friendly the girls were, and there were plenty of them.   Colombia has a reputation for women outnumbering men by eight to one!

  1. Israel

It’s no surprise to me that Gal Gadot has mesmerized the planet with her beauty.    The women in Israel are not only beautiful, they are fiercely spirited too.   This is natural when you consider that every one of them has spent two full years in the army, learning how to defend themselves, learning to be warriors.   Flirting with a stunning girl in an army uniform, an Uzi swung around her waist, is an interesting, and yet undoubtedly electrifying experience.

  1. Ukraine

Male travellers walking the busy streets of Kiev are forgiven if they stop and stare.  It’s impossible not too.   With cheekbones that could carve a thanksgiving turkey, Ukrainian women dress like they’re going to ballroom dances, at 8am in the morning.   Short skirts, heels so tall they could be stilts…they’ve got it, and they’re determined to use it.     

  1. Romania

Still in Eastern Europe, Romania features on my list because of that hot summer day in Bucharest where it appeared to me that the entire female population had burned their bras.   With the low cut summer dresses displaying a very distracting amount of jiggle, it’s no wonder the men drive like crazy. 

  1. France

A bit of a personal toss-up here between the women of Italy and the women of France.   I went with the French for no other reason than the girls there seem less harassed, and therefore a little more comfortable and natural in public spaces. Italian machismo must drive the ladies crazy…

  1. Japan

Into Asia now, and how I remember the girls of Tokyo!   The eccentric way they dress, their strange customs (if you get a chance, don’t miss the Harajuku girls gathering in all their gothic fantasy glory).   While there’s an unmistakable steeliness behind the cheekbones of Eastern European, in Japan there’s a softness and a gentleness that can be intoxicating, for Japanese men, and for geijins (foreigners) too.

  1. Philippines

Asian women are beautiful, period.   I’m adding Filipino girls because they’ve been wooing men from around the world for centuries, and it was very easy for me to see why.   Petite and friendly, I know there’s a stigma attached to the word cute but I use it (along with all the other adjectives on this page) in its most flattering sense. 

  1. Canada

Ladies of Canada, I salute you.   Neither the Australians, South Africans, the English, nor the women of the United States can compare.   Whether it’s the girls of the West Coast, dressed in their form-fitting yogaware, the feisty prairie girls, the style and sass of Ontario and Quebec, the down home wholesomeness of the East Coast,  guys travelling about in Canada gather in bars and freak the hell out.   “There’s just so many!” said two English guys I met in a downtown Vancouver bar, and they weren’t talking about maple leaf trees.    Canadian women can stand the cold, turn up the heat, and easily rock the runway of any laddish list of this sort.

Finding Myself Lost in the Atacama

Lost among the pink volcanoes of the Atacama.

It is said there are three simple steps to happiness: find something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to.  I might add: find yourself a bike.  One day, on my way to the office, an unlicensed driver ignored a stop sign, drove through an intersection, and crashed into my bike.  I hobbled away with a broken knee-cap, a $20,000 insurance settlement, and the powerful reminder that life is precious, time is limited, and I’ll really miss my knees when they’re gone. I quite my job and went travelling around the world on a Quixotic quest to tick off my bucket list.  All of which brings me to the dusty Chilean town of San Pedro de Atacama.  For an outpost on the edge of the world’s driest non-polar desert, the town offers fine hotels, gourmet restaurants, and excursions into a truly remarkable slice of South America.  One such activity is to rent a bike and peddle thirteen kilometres west into the Valley of the Moon, a protected nature sanctuary famous for its stark, lunar landscape.   I arrive at the park gates with my front tire wobbling with all the stability of a Central African government.  Parched for oil, my chain clatters in desperation.  I make a note that from now on I will check the condition of any bike before I rent it.  Sound advice, and I could have used some more, for example: under no circumstances must you leave your bike on the side of the road to hike around looking for better views of the volcanoes.  Soon enough, I am lost in the desert without any form of communication, directions, food, or warmth. It is late afternoon in March, and the baking day will soon transform into a chilly night.   My last update to my family was last week in Bolivia. Not a single person on the planet knows where I am.

Before I set out on my journey, a friend asked what I hoped to achieve.  My mates were settling down, building careers and starting families, so why would I choose to be that one older guy you typically meet in backpacker hostels?  You know, the one who looks a little out of joint, has great stories, and often smells like Marmite.    My reply:  at some point during my adventure I will stumble into a transcendent moment of pure isolation, a challenge that can only be surmounted with deep soul-searching, and personal inner strength. My friend looked at me askew, so I followed up with:  there will also be copious amounts of beer and beautiful women.   

That road has to be here somewhere…

Just a few months after that conversation, there is neither beer nor babe for miles as I desperately scan the sprawling Atacama Desert for my rickety rental bike. Panic begins to tickle my throat.  It appears that my Moment of Zen has arrived. I sit down on a slab of rock and breathe it in. The dusky sun casts a pink glow over perfect pyramid-shaped volcanoes.  Early evening stars begin to glitter.  A cool breeze sprouts goosebumps on the back of my neck, along with my long-awaited epiphany.  I am here for a reasonEverything happens for a reason.   The bike accident, the decision to travel, the dodgy rental bike, the walk into the desert.  Wherever I am, is where I am supposed to be.  Slowly, I relax into the fear and excitement, slipping into the moment the way one cautiously eases into a too-hot bubble bath.   Then I hear a voice.  A Japanese backpacker had seen my bike on the side of the road and figured there must be something to see.  Soon enough, he got lost too, but somehow he found me just as I was busy finding myself.  As the night sky vanquished the peach-fuzz sunset, we see headlights in the distance. Relieved, we find our way to the road, recover our bikes, and pedal in darkness back to San Pedro.  That night we get blindingly drunk to celebrate our good fortune, and I have my second epiphany: it is the people we meet who create the paradise we find. 

Ten years and one hundred countries later, there have several other moments of life-affirming clarity.  As for those three simple steps, they sorted themselves out beyond my wildest dreams.  Whenever I find myself lost, at home or on the road, I simply remind myself:  wherever you are, is where you’re supposed to be.

Visit the New Seven Wonders of the World

In 300 BC, a guy named Herodotus thought it would be just swell to compile a list of the Seven Wonders of the World.   These seven sites were so utterly wonderful that humanity has since gone on to destroy all of them save one, the Pyramids of Giza – only because nobody could figure out what to do with two million 80 ton blocks.

2300 years later, a guy named Bernard Weber thought the list needed an update, and guess what, the new7wonders.com domain name was still available.  While Herodotus traded on his historian credentials, Bernard was armed with online marketing savvy and contacts within the tourism industry.  The decision as to what these new wonders would be rested with the mouse-click of the masses, and a quasi-regulated online vote. Swept into hysteria, the world (or rather, those countries who managed to mobilize their digerati) declared our “new” seven wonders at a gala event hosted by Hilary Swank and the guy who played Gandhi.  UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, the buck-stops-here for this sort of thing, distanced themselves from the spectacle, stating:  “This initiative cannot, in any significant and sustainable manner, contribute to the preservation of sites elected by this public.”  Ouch.  Since I’ve somehow managed to drag myself to all the winning wonders, here are short reviews of what to expect.

Chichen Itsa

Chichen Itsa

Not to be confused with Chicken Pizza, which in Mexico, often leads to Montezuma’s Revenge.     The Maya were a clever lot who designed intricate jungle pyramids for calendars, ancient cosmic ball courts, and other sites of magic at this must-see in the Yucatan.   The largest of several pyramids and ruins in the area, I was disappointed to learn that tourists can no longer climb Chichen Itsa’s steps (which severed heads once rolled down) due to an elderly American tourist who slipped and killed herself, subsequently ruining it for the rest of us.   I did however pick up a free wireless signal just outside the mandatory gift shop, which may explain why Chichen Itsa, and not Tikal in Guatemala, gathered enough online votes to be included as a new Wonder of the World.

Great Wall of China


Great Wall of China

There’s little controversy with this one, since there’s really nothing little about a 4000-mile wall that many people mistakenly believe can be seen from space.   Most tourists in Beijing visit a nearby carefully manicured chunk of wall, struggling to take a photo clear of domestic package tours.  I joined a more adventurous lot to drive three hours outside of the city, barely escaping the choking pollution, to a section known as Jinshangling.  From here, it’s a tough yet thoroughly rewarding 7-mile hike to Simatai, crossing 67 watchtowers.   Parts of the wall are immaculate, others crumbling under the weight of history, but rest assured there’s usually an enterprising local selling cold beers at the next watchtower.  Legend has it over one million people died building the wall, with bodies mixed into cement or buried in the wall itself.  Built by a succession of several dynasties, the world’s longest man-made structure is the ultimate symbol of our desire to keep things out, or in.  Mao famously said:  “You’re not a real man if you haven’t climbed the Great Wall.”

Petra’s Treasury

The Treasury in Petra

You saw it in Indiana Jones, and it’s tough to stop whistling Indy’s theme song walking down the magnificent path to this 2000-year old Nabatean ruin.   Jordan’s most popular attraction is actually a tomb, misnamed by treasure hunters, glowing red in the late afternoon sun. It’s the highlight of a vast ancient city with much to explore, like the Urn Tomb, which delivered one of my best flying photos ever.   Decent hotels, fresh humus, the smell of camel – it’s not exactly Indiana Jones’s last crusade, but deservedly takes its place on the list.

Chris the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer

This 40m cement statue must have been a sour pickle for Bernard to swallow.  On the one hand, it mobilized millions of Brazilians behind a campaign of nationalistic fervour, with telco’s sponsoring free SMS voting, and politicians loudly samba-beating their chests.  On the other, there is no hot-damn way it belongs anywhere near this list.  The Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House – more famously distinct modern landmarks are stewing in blasphemy.  Having lost my camera a few days prior, I recall the sparkling view of Rio, the swishing acai shake in my gut, and the niggling doubt that I should have ditched Cocovaro Mountain for Sugarloaf Mountain instead.   As much as I love Brazil, and Rio in particular, putting this statue in the company of ancient feats of mysterious genius is kind of like listing Turkmenistan as a global centre of finance.

The Coliseum

The Coliseum 

Many years ago  I was a skinny 18 year-old McLovin, frenetically touring Europe with some buddies on one of those “If it’s Tuesday, we’re in Luxembourg” tours.   By the time we arrived in Italy, I was stewed in beer, pickled in vodka, and under the complete influence of some older Australian blokes who could drink a horse under the stable.   I remember, vaguely, stealing hotel towels for a toga party, and also getting slightly jealous when smooth Italian boys on Vespas made advances on the too-few girls on our tour.   When we visited the Colosseum, built between 70AD and 80AD and once capable of seating some 50,000 people, I was hungover, drunk, or possibly both.  There was a lot of scaffolding at the time, a curse one should expect when visiting ancient landmarks.   Being 18 years old and stupid, or drunk (possibly both) I didn’t appreciate it so much as one more step before we could return to a bar so I could unsuccessfully pursue girls, of whom the Italian variety interested me greatly.   The Colosseum was used for over 500 years as the venue for gladiator battles, circuses and all manner of public spectacles.  Including teenage tourists incapable of holding their liquor.

 

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

 

The famed Inca Trail really does live up to its hype, especially since you arrive at Machu Picchu early in the morning, before buses of tourists arrive to make your photos look like you’re  in Japan.   It takes four days of hiking at altitude through the majestic Andes before you earn the right to have the Lost City of the Incas all to yourself, but it’s well worth it.  Porters, their legs ripped of steel, carry all the supplies, cook up delicious meals, even pitch your tent. We slowly hiked past old Incan forts and terraces, peaking at Dead Woman’s Pass, where the uphill slog and altitude left me squeezing my lungs for air. My group, aged 18 – 57, displayed inspiring camaraderie, led by two upbeat Peruvian guides, all the while looking forward to that moment, when you cross Sun Gate, and see Machu Picchu lit up in the morning sun.  Few moments are quite like it, even when the buses pull up.

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

It’s a monument to love that sparkles in the sun, and ransoms your imagination.  A marble structure of such physical perfection and detail it could only have been constructed from the heart.  I had one day left in Delhi before flying to Bangkok, so decided to take a quick trip to Agra to see the Taj.   Taking a quick trip anywhere in India is laughably optimistic. It took hours to navigate the scams at Pahar Ganj train station, as touts tried to sell me fake tickets to fake Taj’s.   Finally on the right train, leaving at the wrong time, I arrived in Agra at the mercy of taxi drivers licking their lips like hungry hyenas.   To the Taj, only a few hours to spare, but the line-up stretched half a mile.   “No problem Sir follow me Sir” and a kid leads me to an empty side entrance for a decent tip.   Then I have to pay the special tourist price of $25, equivalent to three days food and accommodation.  Then the security guard confiscates the tiny calculator in my daypack, for no reason neither he nor I can discern.   Finally I get in, through the gate, just in time to watch the sun light up the Taj Mahal like a neon sign in an Indian restaurant. I take several dozen photos, from every angle possible. It’s already been a long day, so I kiss this monument to love goodbye and hit the train station, where a young girl pees on the floor next to me and armed soldiers become my BFF’s. One day visiting the Taj Mahal symbolized my entire month in India, a wonder unto itself.

Giza, Cairo

Actually, since the Pyramids were part of the last list, Bernard figured they were exempted from this list.   Well, there are two ways to anger an Egyptian, and one of them is to deny the lasting legacy of its pyramids (the other results in generational blood feuds, so I’ll keep that under wraps).  After bitter protests, Bernard decided the Pyramids would be   “Honorary Candidates,” an undisputed 8th wonder, and removed them from the vote anyway.  This tells you all you need to know about the scientific legitimacy of this poll.

***

Where is Cambodia’s Angkor, by far the most amazing ancient city I have ever seen? Ephesus, Stonehenge, Easter Island, or the empty crevice inside Paris Hilton’s head?    Travel is personal, for one man’s Taj Mahal is another woman’s symbol of oppression.    In the end, the New Seven Wonders promotion was a harmless marketing exercise, so long as we appreciate the amazing work organizations like UNESCO do to restore and preserve our greatest achievements. If the original Seven Wonders tell us anything, it’s easier to build historical monuments to mankind, than preserve them.   

 

 

Submerge in Colombia’s Mud Volcano of Youth

by Robin Esrock

This is one is straight out of Willy Wonka’s sweet imagination. About an hour’s drive outside of Cartagena lies a natural phenomenon known as the Volcan de Lodo El Totumo, a mud volcano with thick, mineral-rich chocolate-textured mud bubbling in its crater. Formed by various geological forces, mud volcanoes are found around the world, free of hot lava, but saturated with sedimentary sludge. There are several volcanoes featured in this book, and Bucket Listers should take great care not to fall into their craters. This particular volcano, on the other hand, wants us to jump right in.

Locals have long enjoyed the benefits of El Totumo. Lately the crater has been seeing a lot more foreign bodies, making the journey from the cruise port of Cartagena. First, dispel the image of Mount Doom. This is no lava-crackling cone towering in the distance, shooting gases and molten rock into the sky. In fact, when you first encounter the Volcan de Lodo El Totumo, it looks like an overgrown termite hill, or a fifteen metre-high pile of elephant dung. More than one Bucket Lister will shake his or her head disappointed, wondering if this is just another tourist scam, a two-bit natural wax museum. Well don’t judge a book by its cover, a volcano by its lava, or a Colombian taxi driver by his choice of car (trust me on that last one).

I climb a slippery path to the top, holding onto rickety wooden beams, quickly ascending high enough to gaze across lush tropical vegetation and a tranquil lagoon below. Several thatch huts at the base offer blessed shade from a scorching equatorial sun. Volcan de Lodo is operated by an association from a nearby village, the villagers rotating duties of collecting entrance fees, selling water, offering massages (for tips) or lagoon rinses (for more tips). The crater itself is the size of a small pool, if you can imagine a small pool full of dark, creamy mousse. I arrive early, before the crowds, and a single villager beckons me in. The sun is already beating down hard, so I hang my shirt on the wood, and eagerly immerse myself in the cool, thick slop. I loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the original, not the remake) and I’ve always fantasized about swimming in a pool of milk chocolate. Not anymore. This mud is so thick it suspends my body like a hair gel, comfortably invading my pores with natural mineral goodness. Solid enough to lie back and support my head, the crater is deep enough to stretch out in every direction and relax every muscle in my body. Within seconds I’m a mud creature, the unexposed pink skin around my eyes resembling shortcake in a chocolate pie. A mousse masseuse effortlessly spins me over and roughly exfoliates my back by rubbing his hands up and down. Like most Colombians I have met, he is only too eager to share his culture’s genuine hospitality.

Refreshingly cool in the mid-morning sun, the mud envelops my body like liquid black latex. Buses of tourists arrive, and the small crater quickly fills up, a bowl of black-bean soup with floating white potatoes. A splash of mud gets in my eye, but fortunately another villager is on hand to wipe it away with some tissue paper. Tugging on our arms and legs, the masseuse parks us around the crater, making sure everyone gets a spot. After thirty minutes, the mud has sucked up whatever toxins it could find, and I begin to feel lightheaded. Emerging from the silt porridge, I make my way down to the adjacent lagoon where village women await with tin bowls for the messy clean up. My rinse-lady is fearless. She dunks me into the warm lagoon, scrubs me with her hands, and before I know it she’s ripped off my shorts too. Female tourists yelp as they cling to their bikinis for dear life. Within seconds, I’m mud-free and, after awkwardly replacing my shorts beneath the water, emerge from the lagoon with rejuvenated skin glistening in the sunshine.

Local legend calls this the “Volcano of Youth”, where a fifty year-old might enter the crater, and leave twenty years younger. Whatever the medical or mythical benefits of this volcano may be, it’s most certainly one for the Global Bucket List.

A Rocinha Favela Tour in Rio de Janeiro

While tanned sunbathers soak up the sun on the infamous beaches of Ipanema and Cocacabana, the other side of Rio de Janeiro rises up into the surrounding mountains. An estimated 750 favelas, or shanty towns, are found inside and around the city – the poor, crowded masses that service the city’s wealthy elite and thriving tourism industry. Some 20% of the Rio’s population live in favelas, and in a country with one of the highest income gaps in the world, favelas are impossible for locals or tourists to ignore. Drug violence and poor social conditions inside have been likened to an urban civil war.

With the introduction of walking tours designed to expose tourists to this world, an increasing amount of visitors are heading into the slums, entering high crime zones where few locals would dare to tread. Some argue that these tours have merely created a human zoo. Others feel it is essential to truly appreciate the city. To figure out who is exploiting whom, I decided to go see for myself.

A row of moto-taxis greet us at the bottom of the hill. Rocinha, the biggest of all favelas, is also considered the largest and most infamous slum in Latin America. Narrow alleyways and open sewers separate square-shaped cement living quarters. Painted or plain, they are jammed atop one another, sprawling up the hill like a house of cards. Be-a-Local has been offering favela tours for six years, and is the only company that offers walking tours through the alleys of Rocinha. Other tour companies prefer the safety and ease of a minibus.

Each member of my group, made up of mostly budget travellers, gets on the back of a motorcycle, which promptly speeds off into chaotic traffic up the main road. It’s a white-knuckle ride, as the moto-taxis narrowly slip between trucks and buses. We are all unaccustomed to the speed, traffic, or riding without helmets. Five exhilarating minutes later, we are deposited at the top of the hill, and our guide Marcio tells us the basic rules. “If you see someone with a walkie-talkie or machine gun, please, no photographs,” he says. We do not need to be reminded. Rio’s favelas control a massive drug trade, with entire slums patrolled by armed gangsters, ruled by drug kingpins, and off-limits to even the police.

While favelas are largely a no-go zone for both tourists and locals, these group tours are deemed completely safe, operating under the protection and one would assume with the blessings of the ruling drug lords. “For ten years, I have been bringing tourists here,” explains my guide Marcio. “I know everyone, they know me, there has never been any problems.” He explains that some children might ask for money, but we should refrain from giving it to them. 40% of the company’s profits go directly into Rocinha community projects, and Marcio proudly points out day-care programs and schools sponsored by the company.

We cross the main road, the artery that feeds Rocinha, and slip single file into the alleys. The further the living quarters are located from the road, the cheaper they are to buy or rent. Hole-in-the-wall shops offer groceries, hair salons, Internet, and pharmacies. With an estimated 150,000 people, everything the local population needs is catered for by enterprising tenants.

I hear a firework, a sudden explosion that makes me jump. Young children set these off to warn drug dealers if any police or outsiders are approaching, an entry-level task for children entering the violent, bullet-riddled world of the favela. But amongst the drugs and crime, there are also hardworking honest citizens, living the best they can, sending their children to one of four schools. Huge knots of wires hang above us, the power largely hijacked by makeshift electrical engineers. Although Rocinha has open sewers, the community has its own garbage control, postal system, and governing authority. Compared to slums I’ve seen in India or Africa, conditions are not nearly as bad as I imagined they would be. People flash their famous Brazilian smiles.

When I told local friends in Rio I would visit Rocinha, they could not understand why. Favelas are associated with danger, not with tourists. “Some people say this is voyeurism, but it’s essential if you want to try and understand both sides of the city,” says a traveller on holiday from South Africa. “You can really get a sense of community here.”

We visit a local artist, who sells some paintings to an American in our group. Backpackers are not the only ones interested in favela tours. We stop off at a grocer who sells some pastries, one of which he calls a “Kravitz” after the singer Lenny Kravitz, who once visited his store.

Today, I don’t encounter any guns, and not once do I feel threatened. While some may challenge the ethical value of visiting a slum, there’s no doubt it sheds a fascinating insight on an important component of Rio, and South America in general. Anything that brings people together, across the income or cultural gap, can only be a good thing.

8 Bucket List Waterfalls

Something inside us resonates when we see a large body of water falling through the air. Some appreciate the velocity, volume and sheer power on display. Others marvel at the mystic beauty and striking diversity of nature’s water show. And what compares to the revitalizing sensation of swimming beneath a natural shower, or being soaked by its mist?   One cannot claim to know the world’s best waterfalls, for that is as personal as defining nature itself. These, however, are my personal favourite bucket list waterfalls.  

Iguazu Falls

Spanning 2.5 miles on the borders of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, Iguazu Falls is the famed gathering of 275 waterfalls, surrounded by lush tropical jungle.   I visited the national park that surrounds it twice, once from the nearby Brazilian town of (Foz de Iguacu) and once from the Argentinean Puerto Iguazu.   Both offer riveting views. Metal walkways allow you to walk over swamp and river to access the most spectacular viewing points, and it is even possible to hop aboard a boat and get soaked near the mouth of the biggest water mass, the Devil’s Throat. Natural beauty, exotic bird life, and sheer scale make Iguazu Falls a must for visitors to South America.

Victoria Falls

When I visited Africa’s biggest tourist attraction, I was armed with a fantastic tip.   Cross the border from Zimbabwe into Zambia, and not only is a ticket to the national park a fraction of the price, but in dry season you can be guided to stable rock pools that sit right on the edge as the mighty Zambezi River crashes into the gorge below.   Like the bedazzled English explorer Stanley Livingston, who named this mile-long drop after Queen Victoria, I swam to the very edge of the Devil’s pool with tourists on the opposing Zimbabwe side watching in shock.   Without seeing the protective rocks, it looked like I was about to go barrelling over.   For more thrills, Victoria Falls also offers one of the world’s highest bungee jumps, excellent river rafting, and microlight flights.

Credit: Franciso Becero/Flickr CC

Angel Falls

With its 979m drop, Venezuela’s Angel Falls holds the title of the world’s highest waterfall.   Located in the Canaima National Park, such is its height that the water turns to mist before hitting the ground.   Remote and difficult to access, it is still one of Venezuela’s most popular tourist attractions, and a mecca for BASE jumpers, who leap off the edge with a parachute.  Angel Falls was named after an American aviator named Jimmy Angel who accidentally discovered them in 1933. Four years later, he returned and crash landed his plane on the top, returning to civilization with tales of high adventure. His somewhat appropriate surname was subsequently given to this spectacular natural attraction.

Misolha Falls

There are several wonderful waterfalls located in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Agua Azul has numerous rocky cascades, where on weekends you’ll find families having a picnic in the surrounding park, with kids swimming in the shallow rock pools.   Misol-ha, further up the road towards Palenque, has a photo-happy 35m drop into clear, sparkling water, perfect for a swim.   The surrounding jungle offers an explorer’s ambiance, and a slippery path leads to a cave behind the waterfall itself.   While not the biggest or most popular falls on my list, here I found the serene opportunity to truly enjoying a waterfall in its natural glory.

Niagara Falls

Tourists have been flocking to North America’s most powerful and striking waterfall since the 1850’s, and this year some 28 million people will visit the Canadian/US border holiday town. Casinos, resorts and theme park attractions have cascaded around the Falls (in contrast to tranquil Iguazu), but there’s no denying the sheer power and beauty of Niagara, along with its value as a source of hydroelectric energy. The Canadian side’s Horseshoe Falls has also attracted daredevils since the early 1900’s, many of whom have climbed into a barrel and gone over the edge. If Superman really existed, he might have been able to rescue them, as he did for Lois Lane, tumbling over the falls in the 1978 hit movie.

Waterfall at Gadur Chatti, Rishikesh

Rishikesh is a town on the holy Ganges River, home to dozens of ashrams, temples, and yoga schools.   Here the Beatles tripped out, and thousands of tourists descend annually searching for enlightenment, peace, and inner joy.   Locals will no doubt tell you about the waterfalls, located about 4km up the road from Laxman Jhula, towards the tiny village of Gadur Chatti. Taking a small path into the jungle, a short hike brings you to a series of waterfalls and wispy cascades, fed by the pure, icy waters of the Himalayas. With only a handful of visitors a day, it’s easy to find bliss with a natural shower in the forest. In a region famous for its meditation and spirituality, temples do not need four walls and a roof.

Credit: Lorena/Flickr CC

Nachi Falls

A forest of cedar and cypress surrounds Japan’s Mount Nachi, and cutting through them are dozens of waterfalls. Located in the Yoshino-Kumano National Park and with a height of over 130m, Nachi Falls is one of three “divine” waterfalls in the country. Colourful wooden pagodas and temples surround the airborne stream, and together with the surrounding forest, it’s easy to see how Nachi Falls earned its sacred status.

Credit: Rich Charles/FlickrCC

Tugela Falls

South Africa’s Tugela Falls is the world’s second highest waterfall, falling 947m through the Drakensberg Mountains. Unlike Angel Falls however, it is far easier to access and can even be viewed from a major highway.   In keeping with the excellent hiking in the region, a series of chain ladders allow you to climb to the summit of Mont-Aux-Sources, the source of the Tugela Falls. My father has some sort of cosmic connection to the Drakensberg, so we’d often head to the Amphitheatre, a spectacular mountain escarpment, from which we could hike and boulder our way above various cascades, with Tugela Falls the ultimate payoff.

Bucket List Family Trips

Gone are the days when vacation meant leaving the children at home. Bring the kids with, and throw them in the deep end of immersive, cultural trips. From golf lessons with PGA pros to learning the art of Thai dance from a local expert, here’s a round-up of bucket list family trips for the summer – and beyond.

AFRICA

Language (and chocolate) Lessons

Royal Mansour turns little ones into global citizens with a dedicated Kid’s Club, complete with Moroccan art activities and Arabic lessons. The newly renovated hotel also offers a hands-on chocolate making experience for children in their on-site Chocolate Laboratory, allowing kids to taste-test their creations.

 

Kids on Safari (Credit: &Beyond)

Tanzanian Treehouses

Every child’s dream-come-true – living in a tree house – can become a reality at andBeyond Lake Manyara Tree Lodge’s new Family Suite. The stilted two-bedroom accommodation in Tanzania’s mahogany forest opened in December 2016. Kids can enroll in the WILDChild program, which consists of butterfly walks, cycling through a village, bow and arrow shooting, playing soccer with the staff and roasting marshmallows on a fire.

ASIA

A Child’s First Job

Budding botanist? Future Michelin-starred chef? Belmond Napasai in Koh Samui lets young travelers indulge their career aspirations with the “My First Job” program. Guests can join the hotel’s head chef in the kitchen to create chocolate roses, or blend local papaya and coconut juices with the bartender for a delicious mocktail. Kids can also learn the art of Thai dance from a local expert.

CARIBBEAN

Coconut Carving with Ian Fleming’s Former Gardener

Jamaica’s GoldenEye was the former home of Ian Fleming and the site where he penned all 14 James Bond novels. His gardener, Ramsey Dacosta, still works on the property and leads activities, including coconut carving and nature walks for children. Daily complimentary kid’s yoga is also available.

‘Maman’ (Mom) & Me

The littlest guests checking in at Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France this year will be delighted to find teepees set up in their room with games and a doll. Kids can also romp around St. Barth’s beaches in matching mommy-and-me pareos (wraparound skirt).

Sugar, Spice & Everything Nice

St. Lucia’s Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort’s Sugar Club and Spice Club offer kids and teens their own version of paradise. The Sugar Club welcomes children ages 4-12 and offers treasure hunts, arts and crafts, and coconut bowling, while the Spice Club caters to teens and tweens with ping pong, croquet, pool tournaments, and pinball machines, as well as a sailing school.

EUROPE

Evian Golf Resort

 

Golf Lessons from PGA Pros

Nestled within a 47-acre park between Lake Geneva and the French Alps, Hotel Rôyal is home to the largest Kid’s Club in France, offering everything from circus lessons to ceramics classes. Offsite activities include skiing in the Alps, sailing on the lake, and the Golf School at Evian Golf Resort – the only major course in continental Europe and host of the Evian Championship – where kids can learn first-hand from PGA pros.    

Treasure Hunting in the British Museum

Claridge’s has partnered with children’s entertainers Sharky & George on new programming for kids. Experiences include everything from an MI5 race against time around the Houses of Parliament to a Harry Potter quest using the Marauder’s Map. The duo will even put together a bespoke adventure tailored perfectly to a family’s favourite activities.

A Private Treehouse for Kids Only

Rising above the shores of Lake Geneva is La Petit Réserve at La Réserve Geneva, a treehouse with game tables, an obstacle course, suspension bridge, and fireman’s pole. In the summer, the property offers swimming, diving, sailing, paddle boarding, wind-surfing on the lake as well as tennis lessons.

City on Scooters

Explore the streets of Barcelona with Majestic Hotel & Spa’s scooter program, offering folding scooters and helmets (both child- and adult-size), a backpack with water and snacks, and an iPad loaded with themed maps and itineraries. Extra credit: families can select the Spanish language tour option to take in La Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila in the native tongue.

Behind-the-Scenes at the Zoo

Head down the rabbit hole for a Mad Hatter Afternoon Tea Party aboard Belmond Northern Belle, complete with purple cakes and strolling magicians. Alternatively, arrive in style at the Chester Zoo, where Belmond guests receive an exclusive behind-the-scenes peek with a zookeeper.

Be Our Guest

Inspired by the recent movie release of “Beauty and the Beast,” Town House at The Kensington in London is offering a ‘Tale as Old as Time’ Afternoon Tea, with Mrs. Potts and Chip Potts dishware, a Cogsworth Chocolate Tart, and a Lumière White Chocolate Mousse.

Learn How to Play Petanque

Domaine de Manville, a 250-acre restored farming estate in the heart of Provence, has allocated two caravans amidst the olive country as aKid’s Club where children can participate in a French immersion program including language lessons and cooking classes. Additional activities include how to play Petanque – the outdoor sport similar to bocce that’s traditionally played in the South of France. At night kids can watch French and American films in the private cinema while parents sip rose in the courtyard.

NORTH AMERICA

Facials and Massages Sweet as Honey

The “Bee Pampered” children’s treatment at Belmond Maroma Resort & Spa’s Kinan Spa includes a honey facial and a foot massage tailored to tiny feet. The honey is sourced from Kinan Spa’s own hive of native Melipona bees, and is known for its strong anti-microbial and healing properties. As a memento, tots take home Meli, a Melipona bee stuffed animal.

The Unexpected Napa Valley

While Napa Valley is famous for wine, the region has plenty to offer to families. Sign up for a tour of the Castello di Amorosa, a 13th-century Tuscan castle and winery perched on a hill just south of Calistoga, where kids can sip on grape juice. Gondola rides and colouring books are also offered. Stroll di Rosa, a museum where families can participate in activities including painting portraits.

In-Room Camp-Out and Mini Chef Program

Nantucket’s White Elephant, situated on Nantucket harbour, will launch the Mini Chef program, where children are invited to decorate cupcakes and cookies in 45-minute weekly sessions in July and August.  For a fun night in at the hotel, children can snuggle up in kid-sized robes and have an in-room camp-out, complete with teepees and faux, indoor campfires. 

SOUTH AMERICA

Capoeira for Kids

At UXUA Casa Hotel & Spa  in Trancoso, Brazil, kids can learn the ancient art of Capoeira, a traditional Bahian sport that blends martial arts, acrobatics, and dance at the local school sponsored by UXUA. Guests are invited to either train privately in the hotel’s studio, or side by side with over 65 local children and young adults at the Casa da Cultura (Cultural Center).

Don’t be Cuy for Ecuador’s Tasty Pig

This chapter was cut for size from The Great Global Bucket List print edition. My editor and I decided it might not be, well, to everyone’s taste!

Across Ecuador’s four wholly distinct eco-systems, there are more animals and plants per square kilometre than anywhere else. It contains the world’s second largest number of endemic vertebrates, third largest number of amphibians, fourth for birds, fifth for butterflies. It has 10% percent of all vertebrate animals on the planet, all hiding in just 0.19% of the earth’s surface. Among them is the guinea pig, a furry little critter that has better reason to hide than, say, the striped hog-nosed skunk. For along with colonial Spanish towns, beach towns, mountain shamans and the bustle of Quito, Ecuadoreans have developed a fond taste for deep-fried guinea pig.

Guinea pigs, it should be noted, are neither from Guinea, nor a pig. It is a domesticated rodent that originates from the Andes, and has long been cultivated as a food source. Europeans brought them back as pets as early as the sixteenth century, and that’s when creatures known locally as cavy, cuy or cuyo took on the moniker of guinea pigs. Pigs, because someone at some point thought they looked like one, and Guinea, because in those days, any exotic creature in Europe simply had to come from the land of Guinea – as exotic a place as medieval idiots could imagine. At least that is one theory. Nobody truly knows why the rodent got its unusual name, but we do know they are effective as human substitutes in medical trials, and look much like a deep-fried rat when served with salad in the town of Cotachi.

Fried cuy remains a treat in Ecuador, enjoyed much like a Thanksgiving Day turkey, on special occasions, and at great expense. The furry entrée sometimes shares its abode with local villagers, who fatten them up for upcoming celebrations. In the village of Quiroga, I pop into a dark shack occupied by three old ladies with toothy grins and a hotel laundry of face wrinkles. Scurrying about are foot-length guinea pigs, oblivious to what will inevitably be an unfortunate end to their current, mutually beneficial relationship. I also check out a local cuy farm, where the production of guinea pigs is a tad more industrial.

Having never owned a pet guinea pig, I might have reacted a little differently if the cages were full of fox terriers or tabby cats. Regardless, any self-respecting Bucket List demands one get a taste of the exotic, to get under the skin of culture – in this case with a knife and fork. And so I head to La Hornilla, one of Cotachi’s air-conditioned cuy eateries, happy to escape the hot equatorial sun. I order fried chicken for hunger, and cuy for kicks. A World Cup qualifier between Ecuador and fierce rival Bolivia blares from a nearby television. Staff grudgingly trudge off to the kitchen to prepare my meal. Ecuador had scored three times by the time my gold-battered cuy arrives, deep-fried in three pots to seal in the flavour. Its tiny claws are gnarled, its sharp teeth blackened. Despite an instant wave of nausea, I remind myself that culture determines what is acceptably edible. My love for pickled herring and chopped liver might horrify a villager in Ecuador. Peeling away the rodent’s crispy skin, I’m disappointed to find there’s not much meat on the bone. What meat there is strings onto my fork like melted orthodontic elastics. I can’t stop thinking about my college pet hamster Harold, procured, named and abandoned by a German traveller named Jens I’d met on an Israeli kibbutz. Harold went missing in my car for two weeks before resurfacing, alive, on my dashboard. True story, but I digress.

Guinea pig tastes like chicken, as so many things do. This is because we are severely limited in the manner in which we compare food. If the meat is light on taste – like turtle, snake, rabbit, dog or crocodile – it could ably substitute for chicken in a chow mien. Rodent too, although seal and whale meat is best left for goulash. Cuy skin does however have a gamey sour tang.

Household pets are an acquired taste, and unlike cognac, brandy and cigars, it is a taste I have little intention to acquire in the future. The Great Global Bucket List however insists you sample local delicacies you would never put on the menu back home. This makes for an unforgettable experience, and a particularly delicious story to tell at dinner parties, I’d suggest waiting until after dessert.

14 of the World’s Best Beaches

I did an interview recently and was asked if I’m a beach guy.  Born and raised in a sprawling landlocked city, the beach had a different significance to me than my wife, who grew up a block away from Copacabana Beach in Rio.  Lounging on sand wasn’t part of my culture, but symbolized vacation, a break from the norm, and lots and lots of sand.  I’m too restless to lie back and do nothing for too long.  What makes a magical beach is as much about what surrounds it as it is the beach itself.   A tropical rainforest in Costa Rica, cafes in Barcelona, people watching in Rio, robed monks in Cambodia…here’s 13 memorable beaches from the Global Bucket List. 

 

costarica

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

 Costa Rica has some pretty sensational beaches along both its Pacific and Caribbean coasts, with long stretches of sandy beach, warm seas, and, ahem, hot bodies . Manuel Antonio was a standout for me because it’s located in a national park, is free of any development whatsoever, and gives the feeling that you’ve just stumbled onto something wild and untouched. Take the monkey warnings seriously, though, the cheeky buggers appear out of nowhere and love snatching whatever they can get their hands on!

ipanema

Ipanema Beach, Rio, Brazil

When it comes to Rio, arguably the best beach city around, you’ll want to walk along the Copacabana, but spend your time soaking up the sun and waves at Ipanema.   This perfect sandy beach frames the city, and on a hot mid-week day, you’ll find yourself wondering if anyone in Rio actually works for a living.   Besides the water and beautiful surrounding mountains, Ipanema has plenty of yummy, fit, tanned and ripped Brazilians to look at. There’s no better place to observe the best looking nation on earth in their natural habitat.

 

bondi-beach

Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

 Sydney is blessed with spectacular beaches – Coogee, Manly, and the most popular of them all, Bondi.   What strikes you is just how pretty this beach is – a perfect semi-circular bay with bluer water than one would expect rushing into a major urban centre.. With some of the highest UV levels around, there’s not an umbrella in sight. Thousands of people bake beneath the sun just about every day. Surfers gather like vultures amongst the waves, Japanese tourists walk about fully clothed, while the babes and hunks of Bondi balance it out with swimwear made of dental floss. As for the lifeguards, they’ve got their own hit reality show, Bondi Rescue, to add even more buzz to this busy beach.

 

Alona Beach, Bohol, The Philippines 

A nation made up of thousands of islands, the Philippines has no shortage of spectacular beaches. Boracay, El Nido, Caramoan, Samal Island…any could belong on a list like this.  Here’s a little one that is fast becoming one of the most popular beaches in the country.    Alona Beach is found about twenty kilometres from the regional capital of Tagbilaran, blessed with milky white sand the azure warm sea of dreams.  One and a half kilometres in length, it is serviced by dive shops, bars, resorts and restaurants, and the snorkelling is sublime.  Cradled by rocky cliffs on either end, there’s a a bustling nightlife and steady stream of international travellers to keep you company.

 

 

barcelona

Barceloneta Beach, Spain

Sticking to the Mediterranean, Barcelona is blessed with 4.2km of golden beaches, close to the city centre.   Barceloneta, the first beach along the boardwalk, has long been called one of the best urban beaches in the world.    Besides its wide open space, it has a vibrant atmosphere and gets packed with locals and tourists.    While it is Barcelona’s most popular beach, thanks largely to its location, it does get some criticism for the quality of sand, which some say is mixed with cement.  But the weird artwork, atmosphere, local characters and buzz make up for it.  Close to the port, it’s also the best place for fresh seafood in the city.

dhermi

Dhermi, Albania

The Adriatic that rests off Italy and Croatia has some standout beaches, although purists might deduct points for pebbles. Yet the colour, clarity and sparkle of the water more than make up for the slight discomfort of stones. I’ve picked the little known Dhermi in the very off the beaten track Albania because a: I can illustrate what it looks like b: it’s badass to say you’ve been to Albania and c: how many other pristine beaches in Europe can you pitch a tent and just do your thing? Plus it has old abandoned bomb shelters, and some pretty amazing beach bars.

waikiki-jenschapter3

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu

The surf is usually up at Waikiki Beach, once the playden of Hawaiian royalty, now a hotel and surfing mecca. Waikiki has attracted all the major hotel chains and serves as a centre of tourism in Hawaii, but lets not forget it’s also a terrific beach, with a great view of the striking Diamond Head –  all that’s left of a massive volcano and one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.   Waikiki actually refers to several beaches chained together, usually crowded with tourists pouring out the adjacent hotels.  A good chunk of the beach is reserved strictly for surfers.  The neighbourhood is abuzz with open-air bars, restaurants, volleyball and beach sport, and most days it’s just a perfect spot to watch yet another gorgeous sunset.

goa

Goa, India

The entire state of Goa offers wonderful and colourful beaches to explore. Some are rocky, some have red earth, some with white sand. However it’s not uncommon to see a local relieving themselves in the open, and I wouldn’t exactly jump into the Arabian Sea without checking to see if there’s a settlement around the corner. That being said, when you stay in villages like Arambol or the infamous Anjuna, the beach becomes part of your daily life.   You eat on the beach, you party on the beach, you explore the beach.   Extra points for the occasional holy cow wandering about. Deduct three for any stray dogs, and the odd burned out hippie.

 

ilespins

Iles des Pins, New Caledonia 

Off the coast of a cigar shaped island named New Caledonia in the South Pacific, the Island of Pines still has, in my experience, the whitest, finest and most powdery sand I’ve seen anywhere, and the calmest, clearest water.   The closest I’ve seen is Nungwe Beach in the north of Zanzibar (sorry, I’m lacking digital photos from that trip).   Both times I picked up sand to take home with me in a bottle, and both times I decided that it looked too much like that other illegal white powder to risk packing in my luggage.

tofino

Long Beach, Tofino, Canada

On the other hand, not every beach needs to have perfect white sand, or even warm blue water. Long Beach, on the west coast of rugged Vancouver Island, borders the Pacific Rim National Park and the wild waters of the Clayoquot Sound.   While surfers play mostly in the summer, the beach exudes magic year-round, including the storm season, when thunder batters the coast and the raw energy of nature crackles in the surrounding forest.   Excellent accommodation sits right on the beach, which stretches for 12 miles and makes for excellent long, slow walks to ponder if life, is in fact, a beach after all.

clifton-warrenski

Clifton, Cape Town

Cape Town is blessed with extraordinary natural beauty, and it’s best beaches are in the upmarket suburb of Clifton.   Driving up from Sea Point, cars line the side of the road early, and parking is seldom easy. It’s a walk down the stairs until you hit the fine white sand.   There are four beaches in Clifton, separated by rocks, and attracting different crowds.    All four beaches are protected by rocks and spared the strong winds that blow through the city.   First Beach gets the biggest waves and is popular with surfers.  Third Beach is a popular gay hangout.   Second beach continues to attract teenagers and students on the prowl for love.   Capetonians and tourists soak up the sun, and since the water is a frisky 12-16C, a dip in the sea is truly refreshing.

malibu

Malibu, California

Barbie comes from Malibu for a reason.   The coastline of Southern California seems to stretch on as endlessly as Barbie’s disproportionate legs, speckled with the jewelled mansions of the fabulously famous and wealthy.   Sunsets are spectacular, the waves offer great surfing, and the mystique of California Dreaming, – all tan and blonde and healthy – is addictive. I prefer the vibe down the beach in Venice, where whacky characters gather and hard men work out, but in the beauty stakes, Malibu definitely adds something special to our paradise punch.

tel-aviv

Metzitzim Beach, Israel

Not many people know that Tel Aviv is a true beach city.   Fine sand, decent waves, clean water, all in a city that never sleeps. The promenade even resembles the Copacabana, with its mosaic patterns.  There are several beaches along the strip, but Metzitzim, also known as the Sheraton Beach, consistently wins the accolades as the city’s best beach.   It’s definitely the most trendy, a place for fit young Israelis to bare their olive skin (as opposed to Nordau Beach further down, which is where religious Jews go for the separate male and female areas).     Metzitzim, which means “peeking” in Hebrew, is close to the Old Port which has recently been upgraded into a hip area of restaurants, bars and clubs

sihanoukville

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

I arrived in Sihanoukville, a beach town that competes with anything that you’ll find in Thailand, and along stroll two monks in their bright orange robes.   I just managed to snap this photo before they walked past me.   Beach cabins were rustic but improving as more tourists discover the joys of this former war-torn country. Bars play reggae, small ladies offer cheap beach massages, and the beer is always cold.   Surrounding poverty means you do have to be careful with your belongings, but Sihanoukville’s reputation for squeaky beaches and a laid back vibe will hopefully bring more tourists, and prosperity for the locals.