Monday, June 30, 2014


EXPERIENCE the best of Cuba with our handy guide. From tropical beaches and remote jungle to world-class music and all-night clubs, its rebellious spirit will intoxicate you.

Air France flies from Singapore to Havana via Paris. Air France also flies from Kuala Lumpur to Havana but with two stopovers, in Paris and Amsterdam.

All visitors require a tourist card, which is usually issued with our plane ticket or can be bought at airports. Business travelers and journalists need visas. Apply through a consulate at least three weeks in advance.
A hire car at the airport will cost from US$344 for a week

Lonely Planet’s Cuba is a complete guide to the island

For turquoise sea, white sand and green palms, take a bus or taxi 11 miles out of Havana to the PALAYAS DEL ESTE – it’s where the locals go on their days off (bus US$0.32; taxi US$24; beaches free).
Head off on a guided jungle trek at PARQUE NACIONAL ALEJANDRO DE HUMBOLDT, Guantanamo (from US$4.80).

Jazz club LA ZORRA Y EL CUERVO may look down-at-heel, but its regular world-class performers include Grammy-winner chucho Valdes and Buena Vista Social Club’s Roberto Fonseca (US$13; Calles 23&0, Vedado, Havana)).

Licensed Cubans can rent out rooms in their houses for tourists. Not only are these CASA PARTICULARES  more characterful than hotels, they’re also often better situated, cleaner and cheaper (from US$16).

Located 12 miles up the coast from sleepy Baracoa, VILLA MAGUANA is a secluded gem on one of the region’s best beaches. Comprising just 16 rooms in four cottages, it has a private cove for swimming (from US$58).

Habana Vieja has many great hotels, but the HOTEL RAQUEL stands out for its art nouveau interior (from US$88).
Cubans que
ue round the block for COPPELIA ice cream. If you can blag or bribe your way to into the locals’ section, a sundae will set you back just a few pence. If you pay tourist prices, you’re looking at closer to US$4.80 (Calle 23 & L, Vedado, Havana; branches nationwide).

Try the daiquiri at the famous FLORIDITA-writer Ernest Hemingway was a big fan (US$8).
Known as Cuba’s best unofficial restaurant, the PALADAR LA GUARIDA books up fast. Great food and eclectic décor make it a famous hangout (mains from US$16).

GRAN PARQUE NACIONAL SIERRA MAESTRA, near yara spend up to three days living, eating and camping like a rebel as you trek through the Sierra Maestra to Las Cuevas on the Caribbean coast. You will travel via Cuba’s highest mountain, Pico Turquino (1,972m), where fidel Castro and Che Guevara hid for more than two years before the Revulution. Having a guide is mandatory. Find one at the park entrance or book through the Villa Islazul Santo Domingo hotel (day treks from US$16).

Sunday, June 29, 2014


Tour de Tuscany

Executive summary by darmansjah

CYCLE past the rolling vine yards of Chianti and up the crete-clay hills-on the approach to Siena on this luxurious biking tour through Tuscany’s legendary landscape. Picnic at private estates and stay at five-star digs (Siena’s 17th-century Grand Hotel Continental, for example). Opt for an electric bike ($400 extra) to save face on those climbs and focus on the countryside vistas rather than the burning in your quads. Butterfield and Robinson: “Tuscany Biking,” 6 days; $5,295

Saturday, June 28, 2014


The Real Deal

Executive summary by darmansjah

BASED on the 1920s expeditions of Roy Chapman Andrews-American Museum of Natural History director and the alleged inspiration for Indiana Jones-this journey traces the Beijing-Kalgan-Urga trail, used for centuries by camel caravans between China and Mongolia. In Gobi, your own caravan passes dunes and the Flaming Cliffs, where Andrews famously discovered the first fossilized dinosaur eggs the modern world had ever seen. Nomadic Expeditions: “Across Mongolian Plains,’ 16 days; $8,960

Friday, June 27, 2014


Ancient Way

Executive summary by darmansjah

ONCE trod by feudal lords and their entourages, the Naksendo trail linking Tokyo and Kyoto grounds 21st-century travelers in timeless, rural Japan. Walk by day, stopping in the evening at one of the route’s 69 preserved “post” villages for a hot-springs soak and overnight at a ryokan. And repeat. Oxalis Adventures: “Nakasendo Trail,” 12 days; $4,150

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Chasing whales on the Baja California peninsula

Original text by Mark Carwardine, executive summary by darmansjah

WHALES pass through the area from mid-December to March. HM landing has a whale-watching trip from US$28 and can arrange 11-day trips to Baja.

The Baja California peninsula in Mexico is the best place in the world for whale watching. I must have done it more than 20 times, and still love it every single time. Starting off in San Diego, you travel about 800 miles along the Pacific coast to the southern tip of the peninsula, then sail up into the Sea of Cortes.

There are whales and dolphins galore. Every time I’ve been, I’ve seen blue whales. The feeling of seeing an animal roughly the size of a Boeing 737 is phenomenal. Last time I was there, a blue whale came up alongside the boat and rolled on its side, watching us watching it.

Further down the coast, I often stop off at San Ignacio lagoon, which is a great place to see grey whales. Up until the 1930s, grey whales were hunted in San Ignacio, and called devil fish by the whalers, because they used to smash up the wooden whaling boats. Now you can go into the lagoon in exactly the same boats and the whales  will come alongside, rest their chins on the side of the boat and wait to be scratched and tickled. They somehow know that you’re friendly – it’s quite extradordinary.

During the course of the trip you move from temperate zones to the tropics, from misty, cool areas right into really hot desert. From the boat, the shore is full of stunning beaches with no-one on them at all, lined with wedges of red-orange sandstone-it’s very distinctive.

Back at the tip of the peninsula is a breeding ground for humpback whales. The courting males sing, so we put a hydrophone overboard and lie around on deck with a beer, listening to the whalesong. Each song lasts about half an hour, and you can’t believe it’s being sung by a whale. It’s so moving.