Safaris, carnivals, city breaks and more must-see destinations
Time Out Bahrain staff
The Azores, Portugal When: May/June for whale watching.
Why: Stunningly green scenery, volcanic caldeiras or craters, Peter’s Café on Faial island, which was voted the World’s Best Sailors’ Bar, and wildlife.
The Azores are a nine-island archipelago which sit on the Gulf Stream and are on the North Atlantic migratory route for sperm and other types of whales. You can take a trip in a small boat and get close, but not too close, to the denizens of the deep. Watch mums and babies and see dolphins swimming and playing alongside the boat. The Azores is also one of the few places you can actually swim with wild dolphins, so don’t forget your wet suit.
Getting there: Emirates flies to Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel island, via Dubai and Lisbon, for around BD360 return. You will need to boat hop between islands and there’s a wide range of accommodation from budget and boutique to four stars plus.
Berlin, Germany When: February for the Berlinale International Film Festival.
Why: Because it’s achingly cool, packed full of history and just an overall superb place. Take a couple of walking tours, you can do a city tour in about five hours or there’s a really good ‘alternative’ tour which takes in lots of the city’s amazing graffiti, a squat that’s been turned into an artists’ collective where you can buy funky-tat souvenirs and a heads-up on some of the best underground nightclubs.
Of course there’s the film festival, which is the city’s biggest cultural event and one of the most important for the international film industry.
And make sure you take time out to visit the preserved sections of ‘the wall’, the café at Checkpoint Charlie where spy novelist Graham Greene is said to have observed the goings on on the other side and the incredibly haunting Holocaust Memorial.
Getting there: Lufthansa flies to Berlin from Bahrain, via Frankfurt, from BD334. Accommodation is varied but make sure to check out the stunning Hotel Adlon beside the Brandenburg Gate where the late Michael Jackson famously dangled his baby son over the balcony.
Brazil When: February for the Rio Carnival.
Why: Join more than 500,000 other visitors for the once-in-a-lifetime experience that is the Rio Carnival. We’re not even going to try to describe it, just have a look here www.rio-carnival.net. Hang out on the legendary beaches, which even have their own maps, websites and song namechecks, and visit the venues for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. You could also try something a bit different and stay at Favelinha (www.favelinha.com), a family-run hostel in one of Rio’s largest shanty towns which have, until pretty recently, been off-limits to sensible tourists. There are also other new favela hotels being built to coincide with the sporting events.
You should also make time to get out of the city to visit the Iguazu Falls, one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, and, of course, the rain forest – Brazil’s rainforest represents more than half the world’s remaining rainforest.
Getting there: Qatar Airways flies from Bahrain to Rio de Janero, via Doha and Sao Paulo, for around BD940 return.
Finland When: Summer for the midnight sun or around Christmas to meet the ‘real’ Santa Claus in Finnish Lap Land.
Why: Oh so many reasons. It’s green, it’s clean and, coming from the desert, you will probably have forgotten what so much water looks like.
On a summer weekend in the bigger cities, you will hear people speaking English, German and Chinese, but hardly anyone speaking Finnish. Where have all the locals gone? Some have gone to one of a dozen music festivals, offering a choice of jazz, blues, rock, opera and chamber music. Others are sailing among the islands or they’re at their summer cottage, swimming, fishing and cooking dinner on the grill.
If you fancy joining them rent a cottage with a rowboat and bicycle. That way you can meet some Finns, either out on the lake or on an outdoor dance floor.
During summer the days are almost endless. The sun is still shining at 10pm in Helsinki at midsummer, so when you leave a restaurant after a very long dinner, the evening is still young. In Lapland, Utsjoki for example, a single summer day lasts for over two months! Even in the south, it’s never really dark… just a period of twilight for a few hours.
Check out the numerous festivals, swim under the midnight sun or take in some of the seriously weird whacky contests from mobile phone throwing to wife carrying, swamp football to air guitar, table drumming to rubber boot throwing… the list goes on. Or you could just get away from it all island hopping in the southern archipelago which has some of the most stunning scenery on earth. And, of course, don’t forget the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights – there are special tour operators specialising in trips just to see them.
Getting there: Lufhansa flies Bahrain to Helsinki, with two stops, from about BD350 return. Finland is not cheap but there are various levels of accommodation available from bed and breakfast to glass igloos and snow hotels. Check out www.visitfinland.com.
Gozo, Malta When: February for the Nadur Carnival
Why: It’s a small island off the coast of Malta which is beautiful, green and much quieter than its larger neighbour with some seriously gorgeous beaches.
February is carnival time all over Malta but in Gozo it’s a bit of an odd affair with the whole purpose of remaining unidentified, with the use of masks and disguises, being taken pretty seriously. Snippy political and personal comments pop up on makeshift notice boards and regular carnival floats give way to farm vehicles. In fact the whole event is such a curiousity that university students have been known to study it for their anthropology degrees! All a bit odd but great fun and a truly unique experience.
Getting there: Emirates flies to Malta via Dubai for BD277. From there you will need to take a local flight out to the smaller island. Accommodation is varied from local farmhouse homes to plush hotels, check out www.gozo.com.
Kenya east Africa When: August/September for the Masai Mara/Serengeti migration.
Why: A Kenyan safari is another once-in-a-lifetime experience but the country has more to offer than the ‘big five’, as if that wasn’t enough!
Stay in Nairobi and take a day trip out to the Nairobi National Park, the only national park within a capital city, and from which there is a protected migration route to the Mara. Visit the suburb of Karen and the former home of Out of Africa author Karen Blixen. Nearby is the Sheldrick elephant orphanage – we defy you not to be moved by this and come away without an adopted tusker – or feed the giraffes at the Giraffe Centre, you’re in a tree house and they come fleece you!
Go up the road and check out the Marula Studios where you’ll find a flip-flop recycling facility which collects discarded rubber shoes from around the world and turns them into works of art.
And then there are the beaches. Mombassa made the headlines for all the wrong reasons last year but, here in Bahrain, we know you can’t always believe what you read and the hotels are still welcoming tourists to an absolute stretch of paradise coastline. Check out Swahili Beach Hotel, it’s like a little piece of heaven on earth.
Getting there: Emirates flies to Nairobi, via Dubai, from BD350. In Nairobi, a good budget option for accommodation is the Eldon Villas which are clean, comfortable and central starting from BD40 per night for a two-bedroom apartment www.eldonvillas.com.
Nepal When: Any time but late summer’s probably best.
Why: Well, obviously there’s the world’s highest mountain and even if you have no climbing ambition whatsoever, it’s still a very seriously impressive sight. But you can also channel your inner hippy in Kathmandu, check out Café New Orleans in downtown Kathmandu for good food at a really reasonable price and live music, you’re even welcome and in fact encouraged to join in.
You can’t go to Kathmandu without visiting the World Heritage Site at Pashupati where, according to legend, the Hindu Lord Shiva became Lord of the Animals.
The hawkers are a bit of a pain but don’t let them put you off, they’re just trying to make a living, and don’t forget to bargain. Haggle, haggle, haggle in your best souq style.
Look out for the Sadhus who follow the lifestyle of Shiva, paint their bodies in ashes and wear loincloths, they’re usually happy to pose for pictures.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s a ‘must see’ is the Bouddhanath Stupa, home to Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal and don’t miss the Patan Museum in Patan Durbar Square, a superbly restored and converted former palace and Buddhist monastery housing more than 1,500 objects including the throne of the ancient Patan kings.
Outside of Kathmandu try to organise a trip to Mustang, the formerly independent kingdom of Lo. It’s pretty much a land that time forgot but is rapidly catching up with the 21st century so take the chance to see it while you can. The area was forbidden to outsiders for a long time and entry is still restricted so make your arrangements in advance.
Getting there: Gulf Air flies direct to Kathmandu from BD195 return. As you’d expect there are plenty of backpacker hostels. We can highly recommend the Summit Hotel which is reasonably priced and very comfortable from about BD15 per night (www.summit-nepal.com).
Patagonia, South America When: October onwards – it’s southern hemisphere so this is early summer.
Why: It’s one of the last truly wild places. You can trek, fish, kayak, climb, go bird watching (look out for the penguins), go snowboarding or horse riding. Cross the Andes by bus, take a vineyard tour, visit the Valley of the Moon and marvel at the rock formations and check out Lake Titicaca, just because it has such a brilliant name.
In fact Patagonia has far too much to squash into one very short recommendation. There’s stuff to do all year round and you’ll probably find, when you come back, that a lot of people think it’s just a clothing brand rather than a real place!
Getting there: Etihad flies to Buenos Aires in Argentina with stops in London and New York from around BD713. From there you can access all Patagonia airports. There are various accommodation options such as international hotel chains like Ibis and Novotel or check out farmstay and homestay options for the chance to meet local people and get a taste of their lives.
Port Douglas, Australia When: October/November – hot enough to swim but without the humidity of later summer.
Why: This place is seriously chi-chi, chic without being pain-in-the-bum pompous about it. It’s the town where Bill Clinton was staying when 9/11 happened and is a hidden haunt for some of the world’s biggest celebs who can come here and be guaranteed of not getting hassled – the locals are either used to it or they’re just totally unimpressed!
As you’d expect with Queensland, there’s a gorgeous beach but make sure you swim within the nets as the irukandji jelly fish are tiny but extremely dangerous.
Browse the designer stores and galleries, eat out at some seriously good restaurants and listen to live music right next to the beach.
If you get bored, you can always drive a bit further down coast – about a day or so actually – and stop off in Cairns to visit some of the more traditional attractions, or just stay in Port Douglas and enjoy the vibe or, of course, take a trip out onto the Great Barrier Reef either to dive or snorkel, it’s stunning.
Getting there: Cathay Pacific flies to Cairns from Bahrain, via Hong Kong, at around BD1,842 or Emirates goes via Dubai and Brisbane for BD930. Accommodation in Port Douglas is varied, try the apartments down by the beach, you just walk in when you arrive.
Sri Lanka When: June-August to miss the monsoons.
Why: It’s close enough to go for a long weekend. It’s cool and dampish quite a lot of the time. It’s super green and has amazing wildlife.
Now that peace has broken out after many years of civil war, from which the country is still recovering, it’s an ideal time to visit Sri Lanka.
Whether you want pristine beaches, an elephant orphanage, thousands of years of culture or a yoga retreat, you will find it here.
Downtown Colombo has some impressive nightlife but get outside the city and you’ll discover a land of contrasts and tranquility. And it’s really, really cheap.
Getting there: Sri Lankan Airlines flies to Colombo direct from Bahrain for around BD135 return. Accommodation wise, Sri Lanka is very reasonably priced unless you want to stay in one of the five-star beach resorts and even then you will pay much less than anything in the Gulf region.