A Scandinavian cruise offers so many unforgettable sightseeing opportunities; magnificent fjords, snow covered landscapes, historic towns and vibrant cities and there are no shortage of exciting routes available, whether you want to view the Northern Lights in Norway or voyage deep into the Arctic Circle.
Scandinavian cruise holidays are on the wish list of so many travellers, since the opportunity to go on a cruise and view up close the breath-taking beauty of one of the world’s most northerly regions makes for an unforgettable holiday experience. Cruise options around the Scandinavian peninsula, which covers Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland, can range from four day breaks to two weeks of exploring this beautiful region.
Explore the land of fire and ice
Iceland has always been a popular cruise option, thanks to its mix of unspoilt wilderness and beautiful but modern capital city of Reykjavik. Iceland is home to 30 active volcano systems and a guided tour to the edge of a volcanic crater is worth the trip alone. Reykjavik itself is the perfect base from which to explore the beauty of the Ellidaardalur Valley or take a day trip to Mount Esja to enjoy unforgettable panoramic views. Bathing at the geothermal beach, viewing the dazzling Northern Lights and witnessing the unforgettable summer midnight sun are just some of the highlights on an Iceland cruise.
The spectacular Norwegian Fjords
Traversing the majestic Norwegian Fjords is one of the most popular reasons why many people take Scandinavian cruises. Cruising down Sognefjord, the longest (204km) and deepest (1308m) fjord in the world, means you’ll see some spectacularly beautiful spots in what has been described as an almost spiritual setting. You can also take a trip on the Flam Railway, which rises to 865m above sea level and is the steepest railway journey in the world. A visit to the Fretheim Hotel for a spot of lunch and a guided historical tour as well as taking in the views at 650m above sea level at the Stegastein Viewpoint should all be included on your itinerary.
Exploring the Arctic Circle
Journeying into the Arctic Circle makes for a true Scandinavian adventure and this is the region to view some of the world’s most unspoilt areas. Arctic Circle cruises include regions such as northern Norway, Greenland, Svalbard and even some parts of the far east of Russia. As you journey around the top of the world you will encounter majestic glaciers, stunning waterfalls, snow covered wildernesses, fjords and snow-capped mountains. You can visit North Cape to view the midnight sun and the Northern Lights, explore the beauty of the uninhabited Bear Island or take wildlife watching cruises to spot polar bears, whales and walruses.
Visit the Scandinavian cities
Most Scandinavian cruises will include stops at major cities and it’s a good idea to plan your cruise around the cities you’d like to visit such as Amsterdam, Stockholm, St Petersburg and Helsinki, to name just a few. Longer cruises will provide you with the option of multiple city excursions where you can enjoy the sightseeing and immerse yourself in the local culture, cuisine and nightlife. Don’t forget that Scandinavian cruises are available all year round and are one of the most popular festive season holiday options.
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In this guest article, Lash from LashWorldTours shares her outdoor adventures on the island of Bali. Known as the Island of the Gods, this tropical island in Indonesia is well known for its gorgeous beaches and surfing, but did you know that you could dive on some of the best reefs in Asia, go white water rafting, pedal past paddy fields and hike up a volcano?
Of all the countries I’ve visited during 15 years of nomadic world travels, the place I would most like to live long-term is Bali, Indonesia. When I first visited the ‘Island of Gods’ in 2001, I didn’t know much about Bali except what was written in a guidebook: a volcanic tropical island with a large tourist industry and inhabited by Hindu Balinese people who possess a rich and varied artistic heritage.
During that first two-month trip around the island I immersed myself in Balinese arts, bicycled half the island, climbed its two major volcanoes and then plunged myself into several weeks of beach-side clubbing. I quickly fell in love with Bali and have returned numerous times to teach scuba diving and explore the island in more depth, usually staying 4-6 months. On my very first trip, what I learned foremost about Bali is the island’s mind-boggling diversity and depth. I discovered that Bali embodies very different things to many different kinds of visitors.
Bali feeds the senses and the spirit
For surfers Bali is one of the premier surfing destinations on the planet. For young Australians Bali offers a hedonistic tropical party paradise. For short-term luxury-vacation seekers Bali provides world-class, all-inclusive beach-side resorts.
Many spiritual-health-oriented people consider Bali a major ‘power center’ and gather on the ‘Island of Gods’ for intensive yoga, detox/cleansing, spa treatments and meditation. Avid scuba divers flock to Bali to enjoy pristine reefs and the rare opportunity to spot giant mola-molas and manta rays.
Among art aficionados, Bali’s unique painting styles are famed throughout the world, fetching extremely high prices at exclusive international auctions. World-music practitioners head to Bali to study its unique gamelan percussion music. And for young, creative entrepreneurial artists, Bali is the place to design and manufacture anything from jewelry to clothes to home interiors and furniture.
Beauty lies off the beaten path
Despite all that, I’m afraid that for most Americans and Europeans, living halfway around the globe from the ‘Island of Gods’, distant Bali probably only conjures up images of an over-developed tropical tourist destination packed with luxury beach-side resorts, international restaurants and shopping (a la Waikiki Beach, Hawaii). That image is enough to put off many independent travelers, especially outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, from even considering a trip to Bali. And that’s a shame because Bali really is a beautiful nature-lovers’ paradise.
Truth be told, that grossly touristic slice of Bali does indeed exist. But thankfully only on Bali’s far southern shores, comprising the Kuta-Legian-Seminyak sprawl emanating out from the international airport. Though most westerners may not realize it, beyond Bali’s overly-developed tourist zone, there’s a completely different Bali, one which I consider to be the real Bali. That Bali is full of unique cultural arts, pristine nature and great outdoor adventures. In fact, that real Bali comprises 80-90% of the island. Visitors who venture outside the maniac tourist zone down south quickly discover a lush, tropical, little-developed natural paradise full of outdoor adventure opportunities and a unique artistic culture.
The island of eco-adventure opportunities
Bali island is dominated by several high volcanic peaks which the Balinese consider sacred. As a result of those central volcanoes, most of the island consists of steep slopes, plunging canyons & gorges and winding mountain roads. All is blanketed by incredibly-dense tropical foliage: palms, bamboos, bananas, gingers, coconuts, flowering trees and bushes, all of which bloom year round.
Bali also has miles and miles of little-developed beaches, fast-flowing rivers, steeply terraced rice fields, sacred crater lakes and pristine coral reefs. Unfortunately most nature-loving, adventurous western travelers are probably unaware of this fact. Hopefully that’s changing. During the past decade, Bali has taken up the call of ecologically-minded travelers and outdoor enthusiasts. Around the island the adventure-outdoor-eco travel industry has been growing steadily. And Bali’s visitor’s board has been promoting Bali as a prime eco-adventure destination.
Bali offers white-water rafting trips, snorkeling and scuba diving, sailing trips, hiking and mountain climbing, cycling, wind surfing and other outdoor activities. Most of these outdoor sports are actually not new to Bali, by any means. Visitors have been scuba diving, surfing, white-water rafting and mountain climbing on Bali for at least two decades. It’s just that few people outside any particular sport have been aware of it. What has changed is that Bali’s tourist organizations have been striving to make more people aware of the island’s natural beauty and developing its potential as an eco-outdoor destination. Here are three of Bali’s most extensively available outdoor activities (excluding Bali’s already world-famous surfing scene):
Dive on pristine reefs in Bali
Bali’s scuba diving industry has been established for well over two decades. Many world-class dive operators (a majority run by westerner dive professionals) guide divers on Bali’s pristine reefs and varied dive sites year-round. Most companies also teach all levels of diving courses from introductory to professional levels.
Until recently few people besides dive enthusiasts knew about Bali’s supreme diving. That’s rather a mystery to me because Bali has incredible reefs and excellent dive conditions. Amed, in Bali’s far northeast coast, has perfect conditions for beginners, while dive sites off Bali’s southeast coast have trickier dive sites suitable for advanced divers only. As a PADI Dive Instructor in Asia since 2004, I can honestly say that Bali’s has some of the best reefs I’ve seen anywhere in the region.
Bali’s best dive areas are in Amed, on Bali’s far northeast coast; Mengingan in the far northwest; and southeast Bali dive sites accessed from Sanur, Padang Bai and Candidasa. For more details, see my guide to diving in Bali.
Cycle mountain trails in Bali
Besides surfing and scuba diving, cycling has probably been making the most headway as an outdoor sport on Bali. Since the early 2000s many small local tour companies have set up guided cycling tours through Bali’s central terraced rice fields and downhill from Mt. Batur volcano. One company even offers rugged off-road cycling on forested mountain trails. More recently, rental bicycle shops have been cropping up all over the island, particularly in Sanur, Nusa Dua, Ubud, Lovina and even at remote Amed. Several international-quality bike stores have also opened in Denpasar city and the south. The Bali Cycling Federation has been established and several local cycling clubs have sprung up. The Cycling Federation organizes an annual BaliAudax international advanced bicycling challenge in November, a 2-day race around the entire island.
Increasingly westerners are bringing their own bikes with them to pedal around the Island of Gods. Independent cyclists can easily cycle around the entire island on their own in 1-2 weeks. The total distance is only 500-700 km, depending on which routes are taken. Bicycling around Bali immerses cyclists in the daily lives of Bali’s local villages, towns, and rural areas. They’ll pedal past rice fields, along beautiful coastlines, up volcanic flanks, and through lush winding mountains. The entire way, riders will be surrounded by nature and in personal touch with locals, reaching authentic Balinese places that very few tourists even know exist. Visitors who want to simultaneously explore Bali’s fascinating culture and scenery more fully can cycle-tour at a more leisurely pace, perhaps stopping in Ubud, Bali’s artistic heartland, for one week then along the north coast beaches for one week.
Cyclists can either buy a new bike in Bali or else bring their own. Either way, bike parts, repairs, and service are easy to come by. Bali’s roads are in good condition and drivers are well-aware of smaller vehicles like motorbikes and scooters sharing the roads. All over the island visitors will find plenty of local food to eat, inexpensive places to stay, and friendly, curious, helpful people. In short, cyclists will experience the real Bali while staying fit, exploring at their own pace, spending money in local communities, and not harming the environment. It’s the epitome of eco-adventure in Bali. I’ve personally toured Bali by bicycle twice. You can read about the daily adventures of my 2010 tour here to get a feel for what it’s like.
Hiking & Mountain Climbing in Bali
A small part of Bali’s hiking/mountain climbing scene has been in operation for at least two decades as well. Visitors have been trekking up Bali’s two most famous volcanic peaks with local guides since then. Guided treks to the summits of Mt. Agung and Mt. Batur usually start in the middle of the night in order to reach the peaks by sunrise. But it’s certainly feasible to hike up either volcano in the daytime, like I’ve done, particularly if you hike on your own without a guide. Besides these two volcano climbs, in more recent years several other hiking options are slowly becoming more well- known.
One rewarding hike is the climb up the 1700 steps of Pura Lempuyang Temple, near Tirtanganga and Amlapura city in northeast Bali. The 7 tiers of Lempuyang Temple are located along the steep route between the parking lot, near the base of the mountain, and the mountain peak. The route itself consists almost entirely of steep stone steps going up through a dense, damp, rain forest with trees dripping in vines, ferns, and moss. At the top are astounding views of nearby Mt. Agung and sweeping views all the way to both Bali’s south and north coasts. Hiking Pura Lempuyang from the parking lot takes about one hour each way. Almost unknown to visitors, it’s also possible to hike to Pura Lempuyang on a RT day trek through mountains from Bali’s northeast coast at Amed.
Another hiking region is Bali Barat National Park in the island’s far western corner. The park’s interior is rarely visited and completely un-developed, probably because of the park’s very strict entry rules. Anyone who wants to hike in the park is required to obtain a permit and hire a fairly pricy local guide to escort them. If costs aren’t a deterrent, hiking Bali Barat N.P. can be a rewarding experience, a chance to see wildlife, and a glimpse at a part of Bali that very few people ever see.
Travelers who prefer independent hiking without any fees or guides, can head over to Amed, Bali’s remote northeast coast. The region is famed mainly for its coral reefs and for its charming little boutique resorts that dot the coves and headlands. But Amed also offers loads of great hiking opportunities in the seaside hills that hug the coast. Locals traditionally engage in fishing, farming, and salt-making. Many live in small thatched houses up in the mountains.
They’ve created an intricate system of paths to get between their houses, fields, water sources and the coast. Hiking along those local trails takes visitors past villages, houses, fields, cows, roosters and crops. The trails offers spectacular views of Bali’s north coastline and glimpses of rural Balinese life. As mentioned above, it’s also possible to walk all the way to Pura Lempuyang and back along the mountain’s sole paved road. Other independent hikes are found at Ubud in south-central Bali and Munduk village, accessed from the north-central coast near Lovina.
More information about activities on Bali
I hope this post will help spread the word about the real Bali beyond its tourist glut, particularly about the island’s lush, pristine nature and it’s great eco-friendly outdoor adventures. If you’d like more detailed information about diving, cycling, hiking or other great activities in Bali outside the ‘tourist zone’, please feel free to e-mail me; email@example.com , read through over 50 posts I’ve written about Bali on my travel blog, or check out my two guidebooks: Hiking in Bali and Cycling in Bali.
Were you already aware of Bali’s great outdoor scene? Does this sound like a place you’d like to go hike, cycle, dive or check out other outdoor activities?
About the Author: Lash is an expat American who’s been traveling the world solo since 1998, immersing herself in nature, culture and the arts of countries she visits. She aims to inspire others to follow their dreams by sharing her cultural insights, narrative adventure tales, travel tips and photos at LashWorldTour. Lash is the author of two adventuring guidebooks to Bali, which are available in 3 eBook formats on LashWorldTour and in print on Amazon: Hiking in Bali & Cycling Bali. Catch up with Lash on Facebook or Twitter
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In this guest article, Shara Johnson takes us to the Ancient Roman sites that she visited in Tunisia, finding a colisseum without crowds, beautifully preserved mosaics and an Roman Aqueduct to drive by. This is where you can enjoy the glories of Rome with only a few goats for company!
While anyone interested in glories of the ancient Roman empire may plan a trip through Italy, just across the Mediterranean sea, North Africa was known as the “bread basket” of Rome. Here, wealthy merchants lived spread across Tunisia, leaving behind ample evidence of the typical Roman lifestyle. I found ruins with detail and scale enough to impress, but most importantly, in refreshing contrast to so many of the Italian ruins, I found them in near solitude. Perhaps a man selling cactus fruits from a rucksack could be found on the premises, or some goats loitering in the weeds. Because of the low tourist traffic, tile mosaics were fully intact in the floors of many ruins, statues still occupied their pedestals and niches, no ropes restricted my exploration. I could connect with these sites in a unique way – it was a playground for my imagination to take root in the silence and delve into the iconic ancient Roman life.
The Colisseum at El Jem
The Coliseum in Rome is typically the first image to spring to mind at the mention of Roman ruins. Though a splendor for its sheer size, it’s beyond overrun with tourists. The third-largest Roman coliseum can be found in east-central Tunisia at El Jem, not far from Kairouan. Here, unlike in Rome, the arena floor is completely intact along with all of the cells and corridors beneath it. I huddled quietly inside some of the dark cells, imagining the fear and dread of what waited for me above as a prisoner or gladiator. I walked down the central corridor, prodded by an ancient guard, and up the steps. As I emerged into the blinding light of the arena, my heart was literally pounding with immersion in the past. I walked into the middle of the arena all alone and looked to the empty stands, where the ancient crowds would have been cheering my gruesome death. I felt frighteningly small. I clapped my hands to hear how the lonely sound amplified, and realized thousands more hands would have been deafening. The architecture at El Jem was spectacular, the solitude was sublime.
The Roman town of Dougga
South of Tabarka, on the west side of upper Tunisia, it was easy for me to see why UNESCO has referred to Dougga as “the best-preserved Roman small town in North Africa.” I approached it from across a field still harboring artifacts beneath the matted weeds … I came not via a paved parking lot or a sidewalk strewn with arrow signs and vendors, but literally across a field, as if I were the first one to stumble across the abandoned city. Triumphal arches, temples, baths, a theater, a mausoleum, and many other city components stood peacefully in the warm breeze. I tested the theater stage, an actor in soliloquy, with only ghosts for an audience. Throughout the city, headless statues stood, as if patiently awaiting the return of their upper anatomy. The size of the temple pillars seemed accentuated by the silence in which they stood – you know, that lonesome kind of silence. When I left the city through a triumphal arch where soldiers once passed, a handful of flies were the only other visitors walking the dusty road.
The Roman mosaics and villas of Bulla Regia
Located between Tabarka and Dougga, Bulla Regia was my favorite Roman ruin – a town of wealthy merchants who built their residences underground to escape the heat. Complete with fountains and courtyards, and many impressively intact tile mosaics on the floors, here more than anywhere I got a genuine feel for the opulence of the Roman upper class. The quality of Bulla Regia’s preservation was excellent and no corner was off-limits to explore. The ruins were not even separated from pasture; goats meandered through the surface ruins. The solitude was seductive. In such a pristine atmosphere, walking on the same mythical figures portrayed in colored stone as the ancients had, my imagination had enormous latitude to transport me back in time. Walking the residential corridors, I could almost feel the loose folds of a toga falling from my shoulders.
The ancient marble quarries of Chemtou
Ever wonder where the Roman marble came from? Chemtou, just down the road from Bulla Regia, is one of the ancient quarries, unique for its highly-prized pink marble. I walked into some of the shafts, which got smaller and smaller until I had to crawl into the darkness. The walls were so coated with spider webs I felt a bit like Indiana Jones walking into an ancient cave. Having wandered through the remains of so many splendid houses and temples, it was a nice change of pace to see the source for some of these Roman glories. The small town that housed the quarry workers still stands, in varying degrees of ruin, next to the river that carried the cut marble to port.
The Roman city of Carthage
After the Romans conquered the Carthaginians, they completely rebuilt the capital city. The remains of Roman Carthage sprawl across the area surrounding Tunis. Here, finally, you will encounter a few handfuls of tourists at the primary ruins. Guidebooks will claim it a 2-day endeavor to see all the sites, but I can tell you, if you are motivated, you can see the entire spread in one day via train and foot. The palace and museum, the massive baths, and the apartments overlooking the deep blue Mediterranean sea, are perhaps the most worthwhile if you want to select only a few. Other sites such as the creepy cemetery and the large cistern complex, add a depth of vision to the city and all it components. I relished in a frenetic day, falling into bed at night with a real appreciation of the scope of this ancient metropolis.
Visit the mosaics in the Bardo Museum
Located inside a stunning former royal residence in the capital city, Tunis, the Bardo Museum boasts the richest and most refined collection of Roman tile mosaics in the world, all excavated within Tunisia. I spent hours in quiet awe, standing far away from some mosaics, bowled-over by their enormous size, standing way up close to others, scrutinizing the exquisite craftsmanship. The palace itself is remarkable in its own right, with ornately decorated ceilings, making the whole Bardo experience truly special. In May 2012, the museum unveiled an extensive renovation.
Drive beside the Roman Aqueduct
As Tunisia is littered with Roman ruins, even one of the country’s main highways follows a Roman aqueduct for miles and miles. At first I could hardly believe such an ancient and imposing structure stood so casually in the fields. It has been rebuilt several times over the ages, but now large sections are missing and it is only a tribute to ancient ingenuity. Still, it’s pretty cool driving down the paved highway, channel flipping the radio, digital camera in hand, matching footsteps with modern marvels of millennia past.
Some of the ruins showcased here require personal transportation to reach, but driving in Tunisia is not difficult (or you could hire a private driver). Once you get out of the handful of large cities, there is little traffic and it’s very straight-forward. For the best independent experience in Tunisia, I highly recommend a 4×4 high-clearance vehicle, as it’s the only way to access some sights. People are extremely friendly and helpful. (Even if you get stuck in sand, they appear from nowhere with tractors, and if you appear lost in the boonies, they saddle their donkey and lead you out.) Relax, have fun, and be a Roman in Tunisia!
My thanks for this guest article to Shara Johnson, who lives in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Her primary occupation is dreaming of where to travel to next. She writes literary essays and exhibits travel photography. You can follow her narrative travel blog on SKJtravel.net.
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