Friday, 22 July 2011
I can't see any elephants anywhere because there's something stuck to the windscreen - photo Stuart Butler
Over the weekend of August 11th-13th all national parks in Sri Lanka will be closed to visitors as the island conducts its first ever countrywide elephant census. Prior to this cenusus nobody has ever really had anything more than a hazy idea about the number of elephants found in Sri Lanka. If you want to help out on the census the excellent Ecotours Sri Lanka are offering five volunteers the chance to get involved. See http://www.srilankaecotourism.com/ for more.
If you're visiting Sri Lanka in the next few weeks remember that many of the parks are in fact closed anyway due to the monsoon making the dirt roads in the parks unuseable.
Friday, 8 July 2011
It's now only a matter of hours until the worlds newest country is born. On Saturday July 9th Sudan will split into two and the new nation of South Sudan will be born. Oil rich but yet one of the poorest and least developed regions on Earth the new country (and the suddenly smaller country of Sudan) will face huge problems. For a brief rundown of everything to do with independence for South Sudan see this link to the BBC's special South Sudan feature. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12070034
School girl and wall mural outside school northeast Sri Lanka - photo S.Butler
Three bits of good news from the Sri Lankan tourist industry in the last couple of weeks. The first is that all travel restrictions to the far north of Sri Lanka are to be lifted (this came into force straight away). Foreign and domestic tourists are now free to travel wherever and whenever they want in the whole northern part of the country. This is the area that was for many years out of bounds due to the conflict btween the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) and government forces. This conflict came to an end in 2009 but restrictions on visitors has meant that much of the area has been very difficult for casual tourists to visit. This easing of restrictions now essentially opens the doors for travellers to explore one of the least known regions of southern Asia. For the full details see this Sri Lankan government link http://www.news.lk/home/18388-travel-restrictions-to-north-by-foreign-passport-holders-lifted-
The second bit of good news inolves the opening of a rebranded and redefined Hikkadawa Marine Park. This morning I recieved this email from the good people at Ecoteam Sri Lanka.
“The Marine National Park at Hikkaduwa was declared open on the 29th of June marking yet another step towards boosting tourism in srilanka. The national park covers an area of 101 hectares including a snorkeling and diving zone and also a bathing zone catering to the diverse needs of both local and foreign adventure seekers.”
However according to the newly-structured ticketing scheme, the entrance fee for a local tourist will be Rs. 5 and for a foreigner Rs. 30. A MOU has been signed by the wildlife department and the boat service providers of the area, assuring that more reliable and consistent prices would be charged from tourists rather than continuously fluctuating individual rates.
For the local media report into the park see this http://www.ft.lk/2011/07/01/hikkaduwa-marine-national-park-opens/ It's also worth noting that the official government approved boat price for foreign tourists is now Rp1,750.
Finally, even the crocodiles are getting a bit of love in Sri Lanka now with the establishment of a new protected area for crocs near Negombo. See this link for more http://www.ft.lk/2011/06/23/sri-lanka-to-establish-crocodile-park-in-negombo/
Thursday, 7 July 2011
Photo: Monasterio de Yuso by S.Butler
BBC Travel are currently featuring a min travel guide to the La Rioja region of Spain. The edited down feature comes from the original text I wrote for the Lonely Planet Spain guidebook. Here is a link to the feature - http://www.bbc.com/travel/feature/20110616-mini-guide-to-la-rioja-spain/1
And here is the article in full.
Mini guide to La Rioja, Spain
Photo: Architect Santiago Calatrava’s winery, Bodega Ysios, shimmers in the Spanish sun. (BBC)
The tiny province of La Rioja is distinguished by its ochre-coloured earth and bright blue skies, and by its famous wine (the official wine region also includes small parts of the neighbouring Basque Country and Navarre).Vineyards line the banks of the Río Ebro, while hilltop towns such as Haro and Logroño straddle the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail.
The hamlet of San Millán, situated in a deep green valley, is the location of two Unesco-listed monasteries. The most extravagant is the Monasterio de Yuso. To visit, you’ll need to take a guided tour (monasteriodeyuso.org; 10am-1.30pm and 4pm- 6.30pm Tue-Sun Easter-Oct; £4.40).
Santo Domingo de la Calzada is small town Spain at its best. A large number of inhabitants still live in the partially walled old quarter, a labyrinth of medieval streets where the past is alive and the sense of community strong. Santiago-bound pilgrims still make up the majority of visitors.
The small village of Briones offers commanding views over the surrounding vineyards. Here you’ll find the space-age wine museum Dinastía Vivanco, which explores the history of viticulture over several floors (dinastiavivanco. com; 10am-6pm Tue-Thur and Sun, Fri-Sat 10am-8pm; £6.50).
Bodega Ysios is La Rioja’s answer to the Bilbao Guggenheim. The winery’s aluminium and cedar roof seems to match the flow of the mountains that frame it. Tours are by appointment (ysios.com; Camino de la Hoya s/n, Laguardia; 11am-4pm Mon-Fri, 11am and 1pm Sat and Sun; £5.30).
One hundred and twenty million years ago, the village of Enciso was at the heart of dinosaur territory. Spend a peaceful day searching the slopes for dinosaur footprints. Get a map from the Centro Paleontológico de Enciso (dinosaurios-larioja.org; £2.50).
Eat and drink
Pintxo are the Basque version of tapas and La Taberna de Baco has a cracking list of around forty different plates. It also serves regional casseroles and salads (00 34 941 213544; Calle de San Agustín 10, Logroño; lunch and dinner; plates from £2).
At Bodega la Petra you have the chance to dine inside one of the cave houses (homes built in natural caves) burrowed into the gorges around Arnedillo and Enciso. The restaurant serves a selection of vegetarian dishes and their speciality, roasted cuts of meat (00 34 941 394023; Avenida de los Cidacos, Arnedillo; lunch and dinner; mains from £8).
Dine in the 17th-century vaulted cellars of Los Calaos de Briones. Aside from the atmospheric setting, the regional menu is exceptional and features locally produced hams and sausages (00 34 941 322131; loscalaosdebriones.com; Calle San Juan 13, Briones; lunch and dinner; mains from £10).
Haro’s best restaurant, Beethoven, is actually a group of three next to each other. All offer good regional food such as stuffed sole and wild pheasant (restaurantebeethoven.com; Calle de Santo Tomás 5; lunch and dinner Wed-Sun, lunch Mon; mains from £13).
Posada Mayor de Migueloa, in the former Viana Palace, offers twists on local cuisine such as venison with honey and grapefruit jus (00 34 945 621175; mayordemigueloa.com; Mayor de Migueloa 20, Laguardia; lunch and dinner; mains from £15).
In the small village of Briñas is Casa de Legarda, a guesthouse that dates back to 1634. Areas for guests’ use are furnished with typical antiques but some rooms are contemporary and painted in bright colours such as cerise and turquoise (00 34 605 600646; casadelegarda.com; Calle Real 11, Briñas; from £35).
Casa Rural Legado de Ugarte mixes tradition with boutique styling. The townhouse has been renovated preserving its stone walls and beams. However rooms are eclectic and colourful, with candy-striped wallpapers and velvet wingback armchairs (00 34 945 600114; legadodeugarte.com; Calle Mayor 17, Laguardia; from £65).
From the driftwood art in the communal spaces to the lollipops and red pouffes in the rooms, a huge amount of thought has gone into the Hotel Marqués de Vallejo. It also has a prime location in the heart of Logroño’s historic quarter (00 34 941 248333; hotelmarquesdevallejo. com; Calle del Marqués de Vallejo 8, Logroño; from £85).
History hangs in the air at Los Agustinos, which was originally founded as a convent in 1373. Now the 62-room hotel offers Haro’s most luxurious accommodation in spacious rooms furnished with antiques and floral-print décor (00 34 941 311308; hotellosagustinos.com; San Augustín 2, Haro; from £115).
Occupying a former monastery in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, the Parador Santo Domingo Bernardo de Fresneda offers by far the best value among the region’s paradores – Spain’s luxurious state-owned hotels in historic buildings (00 34 941 341150; parador.es; Plaza de San Francisco 1; from £120).
When to go
Early summer is the ideal time to enjoy the warm weather and good hiking in the fertile valleys and dramatic mountains. Or plan your trip to coincide with the grape harvest in September and October.
Regular trains connect Haro with Logroño (£11) and Logroño with Bilbao (£19; renfe.com); there is also a local bus network (autobusesjimenez.com). The best way to get around the region is to hire a car at Bilbao airport (from £20 per day; europcar.com).
How to go
Bilbao is the closest airport. International and budget carriers such as British Airways, Iberia and easyJet fly to Bilbao from London Stansted (from £75; easyjet.com) and Edinburgh (from £230; ba.com). A bus connects Bilbao airport with the city centre and car hire is available at the airport.
Saturday, 2 July 2011
Photo: Tanzanian secret spot
I've just arrived back in Kenya at the start of a a couple of months research for the next edition of the Lonely Planet Kenya guide. For this edition I'll be checking out the beaches (and fruit juices!) of the Kenyan coastline and then returning to my old stomping grounds in northern Kenya. I flew into Mombasa today from Nairobi and have just enjoyed a very tasty curry at the excellent (though slightly pricey) Shehani Restaurant in the city centre. I'll update this blog frequently whilst I'm away with news and views of how things have changed on the Kenyan coast since the last edition.
A few years ago I did a magazine surf trip to the Tanzanian coast where we scored unexpectedly fantastic waves. I'm carting a board around with me at the moment (so if you see someone struggling around with a board and far too much baggage come and say hi!) in the hope of getting a few waves similar waves in Kenya somewhere. I'd also love to meet up with some of the local or expat surfers in Kenya if any of you happen to read this!