Ecuador Travel - Hiking the Quilotoa Loop

Often overlooked by travelers, the Quilotoa Loop is high on the list of best things to do in Ecuador, and an ideal hike for those looking to add an exceptional adventure to their outdoor diaries. Trekking through the thick foliage of the Andean hills, watching the local women harvesting in their traditional outfits against a backdrop of picture-perfect valleys, and getting rewarded by the shimmering green Quilotoa Lake, this is what makes this hike nothing short of one of Ecuador's spectacular highlights.Any local expert worth their salt will be glad to squeeze this into a perfectly-tailored eastern Ecuador itinerary, so pack those hiking boots; you won't be disappointed.What is the Quilotoa Loop?This high-altitude hiking route runs through the hilly Andes of Ecuador, past a chain of charming indigenous villages. The prime highlight is, obviously, the Lago Quilotoa, a serene crater-lake with stunning views. The other notable sights and stops will be traditional rural markets, gushing rivers and enormous mountain-slopes dotted with sheep and their shepherds. There is no official route for the hike, really, and depending on a person’s ability (and agenda) it can take anywhere between 3 days to a week (a guide is strongly recommended; don't venture out on your own). You will be staying at hosterias (hostels) along the way, so there is no need of camping gear. Make no mistake, you will need to be reasonably fit to trudge up and down, in and out of swooping canyons (these are the mighty Andes, after all).Trekking the Quilotoa LoopThere are two basic routes for trekking the Quilotoa Loop- The “Easy Route” starting from the higher elevation of Lake Quilotoa down to Sigchos, and the “Hard Route”, an overwhelming popular route starting from Sigchos up to the stunning Quilotoa Lake. If you're up for it, we recommend option 2: finishing off at the lake can be tremendously rewarding.Day 1: Latacunga To SigchosEditorial Copyrights: /Shutterstock.comA two-hour drive from the Quito will get you to the town of Latacunga, which serves as 'base camp'; you can store your luggage here in camera-monitored security rooms. From Latacunga, head over to Sigchos by bus: this is where your actual trail towards Quilotoa begins.Sigchos to IsinliviAfter a 7 mile (11 km) trek (approximately 4 hours of walking), you arrive at the lovely town of Isinlivi, where you will spend the night at a friendly and inexpensive hostel.Day 2: Isinlivi to ChugchilanOptions: Before you start towards Chugchilam, check out the local market (operates on certain weekdays). Fuel up on a delicious pork breakfast (vegetarian options available too), and begin your hike towards Chugchilam, approximately 8 miles (12.5 km) from Isinlivi; this section can be real fun, with tons of topographical variety as you hike along the river. Get ready for a steep climb at the end.Day 3: Chugchilan to QuilotoaEditorial Copyrights: /Shutterstock.comThe final and also the hardest phase of the trek is from Chugchilan to Quilotoa, 4-6 hours of solid walking time. The reward at the end of a tiring day is the stunning vista of Quilotoa Lake reflecting a bright cobalt blue sky. If you still have a little gas left in your tank, you can even trek down to the lake itself (or hire donkeys for the task!); be advised that the lake is not swimmable nor potable. Important note- No ATM’s anywhere up there, so be sure to work out your potential costs (guides, overnight stays etc) and carry enough money.AccommodationThere are plenty of hostels around the loop, cheap and convenient, offering sumptuous dinners and comfortable beds at a very low price.Isinlivi- The famed Llullu Llama hostel is known for its excellent food and splendid views from the dining room ($25 with dinner and breakfast included).Chugchilan: Hostal Cloud Forest is great value for money, and they are known for their spectacular Ecuadorian meals.Editorial Copyrights: /Shutterstock.comQuilotoa: Without compromising on comfort, you can easily find a bed for as cheap as $10, including dinner and breakfast.When to goThe Quilotoa Loop can be done round the year, but it is way better to hike in the dry months of June to December (drier trails and beautiful clear skies).Hungry for an epic hiking adventure? Start planning your own itinerary with our travel experts and insist on the Loop!

Ecuador Travel - Best things to do in Mindo Cloud Forest

For most visitors to Ecuador, the standard boxes to tick would be The Galapagos Islands and/or the Amazon Rainforest, both rare and precious ecological sites. But if you throw in a quick two-hour ride from Quito to Mindo in your itinerary, among the clouds and mists of the middle-Andes,1300 feet above sea-level, you will encounter yet another of nature’s lesser-known marvels - The Mindo Cloud Forest, which also happens to be one of the best things you can do in Ecuador and one of its prominent highlights.The area boasts one of the highest pockets of biodiversity in the world, and a local travel expert will have the right answers for you, but here's a guide to get you started.   It's a Birdwatcher’s Paradise in MindoYup, Birdlife International has declared Mindo as an international Important Bird Area (IBA); what this means for the layperson is a constant razzle-dazzle air-show of brilliantly-colored avian life. Also recognized to be one of the best bird watching spots in all of South America, consider adding this key highlight to your list of activities; even if you aren’t a bird lover (let alone an avid birder), you may become both by the end of your trip.There are over 400 species fluttering and swooping in and around Mindo. One popular bird you might see a lot of is the Cock-of-the-Rock (above). Your naturalist-guide will also point out the unique Chestnut-Mandibled Toucans, Toucan Barbers, Giant Antpittas, Scaled Fruiteaters and the Club-Winged Manakins Torrent Ducks. Visit the Butterfly farm at Mariposas de Mindo: Mindo has quite a few butterfly farms, but the Mariposas de Mindo is probably the best. Come and tour this interactive butterfly garden, and witness the 4 stages of the butterfly life – egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly. Kids also love to feed the 25 different species that thrive here. The farm also houses a restaurant and lodging, in case you wish to stay longer.Colibries (Hummingbirds): Mindo and hummingbirds go together, which is why they deserve a special mention. It’s truly a sight to behold as they swarm among the beautiful orchid gardens throughout the region (you will hear them without even realizing what you were hearing all along). Important Tip: Invest in a bird watching guide. Your travel operator will hook you up with one, so that you educate yourself better on what you may find.Visit an Orchid GardenOrchids are one of the largest of the flowering-plant families, and Ecuador has the greatest biodiversity of orchids in the world. They are amongst the 10 most endangered species of plants worldwide, and guess what, one in four plants in Ecuador is an orchid. Most of them grow in the east and west tropical and sub tropical zones. There are approximately 4,187 species registered so far; the Orchid Garden in Mindo itself holds about 200 species of native orchids.There's no escaping orchid-scents in Mindo; hotels and eco-lodges will have them in the rooms and on the grounds for you to enjoy. Tube (or raft) down Mindo River The Mindo River is a low-level rapid which makes it an ideal playground for tubing (not to be confused with rafting). Surrounded by thick, luscious forest all the way, this is possibly one of the most popular activities in Mindo. At first, it might appear a tad risky because of the rocks jutting out of the fast-flowing whitewater, but the locals have been doing it for years (there is not a rock or an element of topography they don't know about). Often, six or more tubes are tied together to make one makeshift raft.If you’re visiting during the dry season, you will experience a leisurely float, taking up to an hour from launc point to end point; this enables you to see many species of orchids, birds, butterflies, amphibians, and reptiles as you cruise past. During the wet season, the same distance is covered in 15-20 minutes, as the rapids are bigger and faster.Important Tip: Keep your feet and head above the tube to avoid injury. The guide will help maintain the tube’s trajectory all the way down the river. You will also be given a helmet, a small inner tube that will be tied to other inner tubes of members of your group, and a life jacket to make your tubing experience safer. Hike up the mountains to the WaterfallsMany people come to Mindo to trekking through the Mindo Cloud Forest. You can ride the tarabita (cable car) up into the hills above Mindo, right up into the clouds. The views are stunning (you can see the zip lines below). When you reach the top of the tarabita, an hour long trail will lead you to a path through the gorgeous green landscapes of the cloud forest to visit six different waterfalls (Nambillo Waterfall being the most popular).The native plants and beautiful landscape of the cloud forest are probably unlike anything else you have seen before. Important Tip: If you plan on adding this to your itinerary, do carry a bathing suit; there is a spot where visitors can swim and relax. And make sure you wear proper all-terrain foot wear.Frog ConcertOnce the sun sets, have the guides take you to a 'frog concert' (perhaps one of the most understated attractions in Mindo). The frog concert is an hour-long guided walk through the woods where participants can discover some of the fascinating nocturnal features of Mindo’s forests.It's not a hard trudge; imagine a night walk around the main pond with a glass of wine, listening for melodious (some not so much) sounds from many different nocturnal species that inhabit the area, including the many species of frogs, toads, and even an owl.Zip-Line (Canopy) AdventureMetaphorically speaking, if the entire Mindo Cloud Forest is a cake, then Ziplining through the lush cloud forest is the cherry on top. A must-do activity for the entire family; the zip-line is an adventure sport of a series of cables that allow you to fly through the sky and over the lush forests from one point to another. From the fourth cable onward (when you're practically an expert), you will be able to test your adventurous side with different positions on the cables – superman (a horizontal flying position0) and butterfly (upside down position). If you are a tad nervous at first, don’t worry, you can warm up on the slower cables.One zip-lining tour has 12 lines and it takes about 1.5 hours to get through all of them. Important Note:  Though zip-lining is an amazing experience, there can be an element of risk; let your travel expert guide you here. Learn about the company and their safety standards; make sure all safety equipment is provided, such as a harness, helmet, gloves and pulleys.Mountain BikingThe thrilling terrain of the Mindo Cloud Forest becomes an adventurous circuit for mountain biking. If you are an avid mountain biker then you must take this three-day tour from Quito to Mindo. You can even opt for a short tour if you don’t fancy the long run.There is one such tour in which you can complete a 52 kilometer route in 6 hours.  Ride from Nono, Tandayapa, San Tadeo, and into Mindo. It is also a marvelous opportunity to explore the varied ecosystems of the region, from the highlands to the thick and lush sub-tropicalzones.Eat and learn to make chocolate at El QuetzalBe sure to visit this wonderful, laid-back coffee shop and restaurant, easily the largest in town and owned by an American family. Breathe in the scents of ginger, cocoa, aji pepper, and coffee. They also have a great selection of breakfasts and sandwiches, and a daily varying array of Ecuadorian main courses. Try the special local brownie – you won’t be disappointed.Apart from food, El Quetzal is the best place to see how cocoa beans are turned into a chocolate bar. Due to excellent growing conditions, cocoa is easily produced in the region. You can find the best organic Nacional Cacao sourced from farms all over Ecuador; learn how chocolate is made by fermenting and drying the cocoa beans and then subsequently roasting them. Take a tour and see each stage of the process, sampling chocolate bars along the way.There you have it – so many activities to choose from, and we are certain you will find plenty more. You can customize your Ecuador travel itinerary here (be sure to include Mindo).

Iceland Travel - How to do an Iceland Road Trip

Iceland is an otherworldly expanse of surreal landscapes and picture-perfect panoramas with ice-capped mountains, sparkling springs, and gushing waterfalls, an unmatched destination for a road trip. The most prominent (as well as the best) road trip in this tiny island nation is the Ring road or Route 1.Contact a travel expert, whose assistance in planning such a trip can be invaluable.  Getting startedDriving in Iceland is an absolute pleasure, but doing it well requires advance planning. Before you get revved up for the most rejuvenating road trip in the world, there are a few things you need to know.Car rental: The most important is finding the right car for the job. Number of people, terrain you wish to cover, will decide all of that. Choose a car based on its performance and its ability to tackle some rough roads of the country. Sedans are perfect for the most part, and can even tackle some mild off-roading, but if it is serious off-the-beaten-track countryside you wish to explore, then a 4WD would be invaluable. Snacks/Packaged drinking water: Stock up on snacks and packaged drinking water. There are stretches of road where there is nothing, and while you can always refill a water bottle from any running stream, it is always good to keep back-up.Gas stations: Gas is about $1.75 USD per liter, and gas stations are mostly found around the towns with a handful of them in the countryside. Whenever possible, fill up your tank as you never know when the next one will roll around.GPS/Mobile Phones: An absolute necessity is the GPS tracker or the Google maps application on your mobile phones, without which you have a good chance of getting lost. Mind you, paper maps are still available and a great fall-back. Paper or electronic, make sure you always know where you are, and in which direction you are going in.Clothes: Iceland is infamous for its varying weather throughout the day; it is a must to have a waterproof skin and a windbreaker jacket (or a fleece). It is also recommended to carry hiking boots and comfortable walking pants as there are some exceptional trekking opportunities you will not want to miss.ItineraryEncircling the entire country with a total length of 828 miles, the Ring Road is perhaps the only option in Iceland that can fulfill your road trip desire. Non-stop, the total drive time is 17-18 hours, but in reality, with frequent stops, and all the photogenic attractions and detours, we would recommend at least 6 - 8 days, and as much as 10, to get the most out of it.Day 1: The Golden CircleThere is no better way to start your adventure than driving the famed Golden Circle route (a key highlight of Iceland). One of the primary attractions is the Thingvellir National Park, where the tectonic plates of North America and Europe meet; an actual geological border of two mighty continents right there, under your feet.Next up are the hot springs of Geysir with their shooting towers of superheated water; make sure you witness the eruption of Strokkur, the most powerful of all geysers in the area. Another worthy attraction is the Gullfoss waterfall, a sight of immense beauty. Wrap up your drive for the day to Vik by stopping at other equally beautiful waterfalls - Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss. You can even take a walk behind a curtain of water at Seljalandsfoss.Day 2: Vik to Jokulsarlon glacial areaBefore heading out of Vik, make sure to catch the breathtaking sunrise view of Reynisfjara Beach, a black sand beach showcasing the most amazing array of basalt columns. As you continue your drive towards Hofn, stop at the Skaftafell National Park, grab your gear and hike in the backdrop of stunning mountains; check out the alluring basalt-column framed Svartifoss Waterfall. Spend the rest of the day in a hotel somewhere near the Jokulsarlon glacial area.Day 3: Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon to EgilsstadirBegin your day by strolling around the Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon. The massive chunks of icebergs floating in the lagoon sparkle like diamonds - yes, indeed, there is a beach nearby aptly titled Diamond Beach, one of Iceland's most beautiful and underrated shorelines. Interestingly, Jokulsarlon also happens to be one of the most visited landmarks of Iceland. After your morning stroll, start your drive along the southeastern coast, past the gorgeous east fjords towards Egillstadir. The route itself is quite scenic and exhilarating with good vistas and solid roads, making East Fjords on par with the West Fjords (which usually gets more attention).Day 4: Egilsstadir to MyvatnGetting to Myvatn from Egilsstadir is quite easy and less strenuous as it only takes two hours to drive, giving you plenty of time to explore this gem of a place. With extreme geothermal activity, the Lake Myvatn region offers some exciting surprises and is certainly one of the most interesting spots of Iceland.Do visit the gigantic Detifoss waterfall and relax by indulging in the thermal baths of the serene Myvatn lake.Day 5: Myvatn to AkureyriSince Husavik is only a half hour drive from Lake Myvatn, it would be a great opportunity to experience a whale-watching tour for which Husavik is famous. As you head towards Akureyri, stop at Godafoss waterfall for spectacular views and to put your cameras to work.The bustling lake town of Akureyri also happens to be the second largest urban area of the country after Reykjavik. It’s a perfect stop for visiting restaurants and to stock up on groceries for the remainder of the trip.Day 6 & 7: Akureyri to Snaefellsnes peninsulaThe Snaefellsnes peninsula in the north-west is a long drive from Akureyri; the majority of day 6 will go in driving through the snow-clad roads, past rippling streams and through several woodlands. You can start your Snaefellsnes adventure the next day by visiting the Hellnar Arch, a natural rock formation composed of basalt sheets and occupied by the thousands of colorful birds that nest there. Kirkjufell Mountain (the most-photographed feature of Iceland) is another major highlight of this place. Snaefellsness has tons of things to do and places to see; there are hiking, mountain-biking and snow-mobile opportunities (even in peak summer) galore. Either stay a couple of days and soak it all in, or continue on your roadtrip.Day 8: Snaefellsnes Peninsula to ReykjavikProbably the final day of such a ravishing road trip ends with a two-hour drive from the Snaefellsnes Peninsula to the lively capital city of Reykjavik. Reykjavik is legendary for its commendable culinary scene and vibrant nightlife, and almost needs no introduction.Where to stayHonestly, it depends on your choice, whether you want to stay in comfort with good amenities, or save some money and camp out in nature.Hotels: Obvious benefits are a clean bed, a roof, shower, and food. There are plenty of hotels around the Ring Road and finding a good one shouldn’t be a concern, especially if a local travel expert is looking out for you.Camping/RV: Camping or staying in an RV is another great alternative if you are looking to save money, and if you wish to be independent of any fixed schedule.When to GoDue to its high latitude and arctic nights, traveling to Iceland in the winter months of October to February is not recommended, unless catching a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights is your main agenda. Bear in mind that during these very months, some of the roads may be impassable and not properly maintained.Perhaps the best time to plan your visit would be in the summer months of July and August when the sun hardly sets.The adage “the journey matters more than the destination” is nowhere truer than in Iceland. Travel at your own pace, hike the glaciers, take a dip in natural hot springs, explore the divinity of this unspoilt land full of lovely people, and you will leave with a determined mindset to return. Excited enough? Start tailoring your own itinerary with a travel expert.

Best Food To Eat in South Africa

Few countries scream diversity like South Africa; multiple cultures and communities have passed this way, and not all fared well, but all left an impact on the region. Not surprising then, the influence of Dutch, French, Indian and Malaysian cuisine on the South African food scene. A melting pot of various flavors (no pun intended), the most common method of cooking here is barbecue, and meat forms the focal point of the dish or the meal. The Dutch, being one of the first settlers in the country, have had maximum influence on the cuisine here. Then the other settlers came, merchants, colonists and slaves, and the combination of all these led to what is known today as Afrikaans cuisine. Before settling down in any particular part of South Africa, the settlers were nomadic in nature, which led to a liberal use of dried meat and the exotic herb and spices they used as preservatives.Below are a few dishes that you must try on your visit to South Africa. A good travel expert can help you customize an entire itinerary around food, or certainly make it a part of a larger one (highly recommended!).Biltong :Known as Biltong or Droewors (Afrikanns: literally "dry sausage"), you can buy strips of these dried meats, traditionally cured with vinegar, salt and pepper, that are flavored with many indigenous spices, the most popular being chili and garlic.. They are one of the most popular snacks throughout South Africa and are usually made with meats of ostrich, beef and wild boar. Perfect to carry with you on a long day of travel. And due to it being low in fat and high in protein, health enthusiasts give it a two-thumbs-up.Amagwinya:Another popular snack is Amagwinya or Vetkoek, basically fried dough balls with a filling, which can be anything from savory meats and cheeses, or it can be treated as a dessert and stuffed with apricot jam. 'Vetkoek', which literally translates as "fat cake", is a must-try here.Boerewors:It is unavoidable: when in South Africa, you must try the traditional braai (barbeque). One of the most famous braai dish is Boerewors, a South African sausage made from beef with a mix of either pork or lamb, and is cooked on a slow flame. Try it at The Grillhouse in Rosebank or at the Fireside Bistro in Norwood (both located in eclectic Johannesburg). If you are looking for a gourmet version of the dish, you will find it at the Life Grand Cafe at the swanking new Waterfall City, South Africa's most ambitious urban development project, north of Jo'burg. Apart from this, you will find many local dishes that are also made with barbequed meat that is cured using local spices, and served with rolls, breads and salads.Cape Malay Curry:It is a popular curry and a stew that is best served with rice; you can trace its roots to Indonesia, Malaysia and India. The stew is made with some meat (usually chicken) and is heavy on spices such as turmeric, saffron and cinnamon, making it full of flavor and fragrance.Braaivleis or Shisa Nyama:The tradition of braai goes back in time to when butchers would set up the barbie outside their shops during weekends to earn a little extra money. A tradition that continues till today, you will see the entire neighborhood gather around on weekends at these local braais for some delicious food and good music. Creating a vibrant atmosphere which is almost like a celebration, you should definitely stop by one of these for an authentic South African experience, which will also give you the unique opportunity to interact with locals.Bobotic:Something that is cooked in every household and restaurant and is considered to be the national dish of the country, you will find a heavy influence of Asian flavors in this dish. That being said, no one really knows from where the dish originated; in fact, its roots have become almost almost irrelevant today. Traditionally, it was something like a meatloaf with raisins, baked with an egg on the top. Today, it is minced meat that is mixed with curry powder and various other spices and herbs, baked to perfection and topped with an egg. It is usually served with yellow rice, and is a staple here.Amarula Don Pedro:The roots of this boozy milkshake can be traced back to the 1970s, and it is a well-known dessert throughout South Africa. Amarula is a cream-based liquor that is made with the indigenous marula fruit. You will find it in every bar (as a drink), and in most restaurants (as a dessert), and if you are up for it, you can buy a bottle of Amarula and make it yourself.Koek Sisters:To satisfy that sweet tooth, the Koek Sisters is deep-fried dough coated with coconut shavings and soaked in sugar syrup. This is the variety that you find predominantly throughout the country, but there are spicy varieties of this dish as well; both versions must be tried when you are here.Malva Pudding:The Malva Pudding is a heavy dessert that is a staple in most South African homes. You will hear from every local about the sweet pudding with toffee sauce that is made by their granny on special occasions, or even to accompany a simple meal. Invented by the Dutch, the dish is a simple apricot sponge cake coated with toffee sauce; the cake is hot, soft and sweet, and every bite just melts in your mouth.The Beverages:Now that you know what to eat, let’s learn a bit more about what to drink. Amarula has already been mentioned, and although it is the most popular, it is the beer that is considered to be the unofficial national drink here. There are various indigenous beers that you must try, most famous ones being Umqombothi, a Xhosa Beer made from corn. Other breweries that are gaining popularity are Jack Black, the Porcupine Quill Brewing Company, and the Black Horse Brewery, to name a few.Apart from beer, the wines of South Africa have had much written about them and are internationally renowned. The Jerepigo, a mix of Cinsaut and Pinot Noir grapes (these are two specialties that are found in the country) is a fortified dessert wine that is very famous.Apart from being known for its beer and wine, South Africa is known for its tea. Having some really unique flavors to choose from, the Rooibos is a stand-out. Found in the Cederberg region and grown only in two valleys of the region, the tea is devoid of caffiene, rich in antioxidants and is internationally known as “red tea” or “red bush”. It is even added to other teas to enhance their flavor.Customize a food trip with a travel expert here.

Iceland's Golden Circle: Everything You Need to Know

If you are looking to explore some of Iceland’s most astounding sights, and haven't the luxury of a long trip, then you must take the Golden Circle tour. Driving the route is a popular day trip; the 300km route runs a full circle, covering some of Iceland’s top highlights: Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir Geothermal Field, and Thingvellir National Park, giving visitors the chance to experience the diversity of Iceland in a relatively short time.Book a Tour: Organized/Guided or Self-DriveThe Golden Circle is an ideal place to begin your Icelandic excursions. It has a lot to offer, the roads are usually well maintained through any season and tours are plenty to take you there.There’s no rush when you’re traveling at your own pace, hence a self-drive is strongly recommended for doing the Golden Circle. Rent you a car, explore the many smaller, eye-catching sights on the road and stop for photos anytime you want. However, guided tours unquestionably have their perks, and usually take less organizing, so which ever choice you make it really is a win-win situation.Driving In IcelandDriving in Iceland (especially on the Golden Circle route) is relatively stress-free irrespective of changing seasons. If you head out of the major cities, there is hardly any living soul apart from an odd herd of sheep crossing the road. Watch out for violent cross-winds; they do occur. Gas is expensive in Iceland (though not much more than the rest of Europe), but a full tank should be enough for the Golden Circle.Navigation: The biggest challenge of navigating the Golden Circle route is to get out of Reykjavik first. Once the busiest part of the route is out of the way, only natural wilderness surrounds you and if you’re driving by yourself, you can stop to enjoy the drive almost anywhere you like.Timing: Without a halt, the Golden Circle route can take as little as 3-4 hours to drive, but we urge you to spend more time on the road capturing a lot of photos and enjoying the breathtaking scenery.Where to goWhile there are countless stopping points along the Golden Circle, here are a few of the notable destinations that you should choose to stop at along your drive!Þingvellir National ParkWe start off our Golden Circle excursions by taking our first stop at Þingvellir National Park. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the national park not only has great historical significance (it was the Viking seat of parliament once upon a distant time in the past, from the 10th - 18th centuries), it is also protected for its unique geology and natural elements.Learn how the North American & Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly splitting apart from each other, creating deep fissures in the ground.  If you have a bit more time on your side then do try activities like snorkeling and scuba diving at one of these fissures, called Silfra (dry-suit mandatory!).Geysers At HaukadalurNext stop on our Golden Circle road trip is Haukadalur, a geothermal area home to two famous geysers called Geysir and Strokkur located 60km away from Þingvellir National Park. Eruptions at Geysir can launch boiling water up to 200 feet in the air. However, eruptions may be less frequent nowadays, and have in the past stopped altogether for many years, but a second geyser called Strokkur constantly explodes with sweltering water shooting 100 feet into the air every 10 minutes or so.Important Tip: Don't crowd Strokkur, and always be cautious when you are near the hot springs or mud pots—the ground may be unpredictable, suddenly giving way beneath you. Try to stick to formal paths or established tracks.If you’re looking to collect some valuable memorabilia, you can find a gift shop and also a restaurant where you can warm up with some appetizing hot soup.Gullfoss WaterfallYour next stop would be the spectacular waterfall called Gullfoss, a major highlight on Iceland’s Golden Circle. This wide & fast moving river turns a corner and falls 100 feet into a fissure in the earth, producing thick mist & frequent rainbows making it one of Iceland’s most popular attractions.Once you get there, there are plenty of hiking opportunities in store, and the stunning landscapes give you the chance to go horseback riding as well. The Icelandic Horse, or "Viking horse", is known for its resoluteness as well as its animated and friendly nature.Important Tip: The area around the falls gets pretty windy, so consider bringing a waterproof jacket (and maybe even pants) if you plan to get close.Not far away, you can also find an exhibition dedicated to explaining local geology and ecology. A visit will not only enlighten you but give you a better understanding of Iceland’s natural environment.  Offbeat DestinationsThe standard Golden Circle route covers the Thingvellir National Park, Haukadalur and the Gullfoss waterfall. But there a number of smaller and less well-known sites that can be visited along your route.Laugarvatn FontanaUnless you’re out on a guided tour, driving around the Golden Circle all day long can be tiring (the long, endless roads can be sleep-inducing). If tired, we strongly recommend you to crash at the natural steam baths of Laugarvatn Fontana for an hour or two.Relax and unwind yourself in a natural steam bath built over geysers; take a quick dip and treat yourself with the famous Icelandic rye bread dug out of the heated ground and served up hot with butter. Even if you don’t fancy getting wet, this place shouldn’t be missed as they have a viewing deck, which offers picturesque views of the nearby lake and mountains.Kerið Crater LakeThe next stop on the Golden Circle is the Kerid Crater Lake (900 feet wide and 180 feet deep), a stunning, almost perfectly circular lake, which sits at the bottom of a crater. Deep and instantly recognizable, the multi-coloured crater blends perfectly with the aquamarine water, creating an irresistible sight for photographers.Skalholt CathedralRelatively large in comparison with other Icelandic cathedrals, the Skalholt Cathedral is an important structure in Icelandic history, having been a bishop's seat since 1056, and the location of the country's first school.The white-washed building is studded with black tiled roof and beautiful stained glass windows which make this church stand out as compared to most Icelandic churches, many of which were made of wood. During the summer you can stay overnight in dormitories and cottages; you can even catch a classical concert – if you’re visiting in July.NesjavallaleiðIf you wish to add a dash of serenity to your Golden Circle drive, then hit the Nesjavallaleið road that leads from Reykjavik all the way to Thingvellir National Park. There are no stops along the route but the scenery around is absolutely stunning.Icelandic HorsesThere will be numerous places along the Golden Circle route, where you can stop the car and get up-close encounters with the famous Icelandic horses. Unique and small in size, these equestrian creatures are very calm so you needn’t be scared of petting them when you stop to see them.If you want to experience some of Iceland’s stunning landscapes but don’t have a lot of time on your hand , then let our travel experts book you a customized tour of the Golden Circle; a wonderful option, since it can be explored in as little as a few hours – although we would recommend you string it out for as long as possible!

Japan Travel Guide: The Tsukiji Fish market

Being the largest and busiest fish market in the world, and spearheading the Japanese culinary tradition, the Tsukiji Fish Market is an important highlight of Tokyo that simply cannot be ignored on a visit to Japan. Chaotic, but superbly organized, it booms and and bustles with raincoated fishermen, suited merchants, knife-weilding chefs and a healthy crowd of curious (and hungry) tourists. Sheer bliss for anyone interested in getting to the heart and soul of Japanese seafood cuisine, and we strongly recommend making it an integral part of your foodie trip.Mention food, and any travel expert in Japan will make sure you don't miss this extravaganza of fish, commerce, flavors and aromas. Here’s a quick guide, so you’re better prepared to make the most out of your visit.Still booming after 82 years, Tsukiji handles more than 1600 tonnes of merchandise a day (worth 1.6 billion Yen) ; approximately 480 different kinds of seafood are caught, tossed, sorted, tagged (and even cooked), making it a sensory delight for any foodie.The Great Tuna AuctionEditorial Copyrights: /Shutterstock.comTuna is more than a food in Japan; it's a commodity, and the main highlight of the Tsukiji fish market is the Tuna Auction, which takes place every day between 5:20 and 7 am, excluding Sundays, some Wednesdays, and public holidays. This is where you experiencing the bidding craze of the licensed participants (not unlike the floor of a trading house on a Friday evening before the bell goes ding) communicating frenziedly with each other in a bizarre semaphore of visual shorthand over frozen carcasses of tuna.Editorial Copyrights: /Shutterstock.comTo catch the live auction might be a bit of a challenge, as only 120 tourists are admitted each day, in 2 batches of 60, the first between 5:25 am and 5:45 am and the other between 5:50 am and 6:10 am (on the dot, please; you think the Swiss are punctilious about time?). Even more challenging is to secure a great viewing spot; so guess what, here's where you put that awful jet-lag to good use and show up at 3.30 am. There are some codes of conducts which need to be followed while viewing the auction:1. Flash photography is strictly prohibited, as it might distract the auction environment (a missed signal/gesture could mean disaster for a trader).2. Visitors are not permitted to carry any food or drinks inside the auction.3. No open footwear or flip flops are allowed.4. Visitors are expected to follow the rules and stay calm as the auction is primarily a business activity.Visit the Wholesale AreaConsisting of hundreds of stalls offering their catch of the day from the seas that lick Japan's shores, the inner market (better known as the wholesale market) is a noisy, joyous, smelly, magnificent display of sea-food appreciation. Workers rush through the aisles on scooters, and sellers sell almost everything that exists in sea, from the delicious Alfonsino (Red Bream) and tuna to tiny, poky bivalves and molluscs; as the saying goes - if it lives in the sea, you will find it at Tsukiji.Apart from the Tuna Auction, and owing to the frenzy of activity, casual visitors are allowed to enter only after 9 am, It is advisable not to carry any sort of luggage, or bring pets and very young children, for safety purposes.Important Tip- Stay alert while strolling around the market, as you might just get hit by a motorized fish trolley racing around at alarming speeds (even if the trolley-operators have the skills of a New York bike-delivery ninja). Visit the Outer Market and RestaurantsThe best thing you could do after the Tuna Auction is to feast on the freshly made sushi in Tsukiji’s outer market, arguably the best place in Tokyo to have sushi. All the restaurants and tiny two-table sit-outs are lined up near the main gate; this might be the best (and the healthiest) breakfast you've ever had: delicious sauce-soaked raw fish and seafood, had with varieties of rice-bowls (fried, steamed, jasmine, you name it, it's there). Editorial Copyrights: /Shutterstock.comMost tourists tend to overlook the outer market; not only is it superb for restaurants and food, but also for shops which sell high-quality kitchenware, including beautiful hand-forged Japanese knives (probably the finest steel and craftsmanship in the world) - every chef, or even anyone who simply loves to cook, has got to have one of these babies in their home kitchen. What's more, you can also handscribe your name in Kanji on the knife.Important Note: Not all shops in Tsukiji accept credit cards; do visit the ATM beforehand.How to get there:Located in the heart of Tokyo, reaching the Tsukiji Fish Market is not difficult. The most efficient way would be to take the Oedo subway line and get off at Tsukiji Shijo Station, from where the main gate is just round the corner. You can also reach it with a 5-minute walk from Tsukiji Station on the Hibiya subway line. Important note: the Tsukiji fish market is scheduled to be relocated to Toyosu, possibly by fall of 2018 (and it may be renamed as such, although purists insist it retain both names, Tsukiji-Toyosu) to make way for the 2020 Olympics. True to Japanese style, it will only come back bigger and better, with a theme park planned around it as well.Editorial Copyrights: /Shutterstock.comYup, visiting a local market and trying out their cuisine is probably the best method of diving into a food-culture. Since seafood is an integral part of Japanese cuisine, no trip to Tokyo should go by without stepping into Tsukiji Fish Market. Start planning your trip with a local expert, and make sure this legendary experience is a part of it!.