Dominican Republic

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Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is Latin Caribbean life taken to a higher degree. Visit for justifiably famous beaches, hidden villages and cloud-forest treks.

Home to the highest peak in the Caribbean, sparkling lagoons, exotic wildlife and pristine shores, it has, rather unfairly, been dubbed a bit of a one-trick beach-holiday pony. But away from the all-inclusive resorts at Punta Cana in the east and Puerto Plata in the north, a more beguiling pictures emerges.

The capital city, Santo Domingo, contains the oldest buildings in the Western hemisphere, and has a great attitude, traditional feel and locals who like to party. Head for Cabarete, famous for its windsurfing and kitesurfing, if you want an aqua adventure. Or whale watching is popular with visitors: spot humpbacks returning from northern climes to give birth off the Peninsula De Samaná.

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Wanderlust recommends

  1. Santo Domingo: The capital’s historic centre is a charming time warp.
  2. Cachote: A cool retreat up in the mountains with a beautiful cloud forest.
  3. Bahía de la Águilas: Simply the most stunning beach in the country.
  4. Laguna de Oviedo: A vast saltwater lagoon ideal for wildlife spotting.
  5. Constanza: A great area for trekking and outdoor pursuits.
  6. Jarabacoa: The adventure capital of the DR  and a springboard for Pico Duarte.
  7. La Vega: The best place to catch the colourful Carnaval (Sundays in Feb).
  8. Punta Rucia: A laidback beach town that has purposely avoided development.
  9. Playa Rincón: Giving Bahía de la Águilas a run for its money.

Latest Dominican Republic articles

Capital
Santo Domingo
Languages
Spanish & Dominican Spanish
Population
11 million
Int. dial code
+1
Visa
British citizens travelling to the Dominican Republic for tourism don’t need a visa
Time zone
GMT-4
Voltage
110 V
Currency
Dominican Peso

When to go

This being the Caribbean, temperatures are warm year-round. Mountainous places such as Jarabacoa and Constanza are considerably fresher than the rest of the country.

The winter (November-April) is the cooler time to visit but good for trekking; expect mid to high 20s with cool nights. Jan to March is best for whalewatching.

From May to July is the best to spot wildlife at Lago Enriquillo and the Laguna de Oviedo (feeding season), with large groups of flamingos visible. August is the active hurricane period for the Caribbean. September and October are the active hurricane periods for the Atlantic.

International airports

BA flies to Santo Domingo or Punta Cana from Gatwick; Thomson flies from Manchester and Gatwick to Punta Cana and Puerto Plata. Flight time is around 10 hours.

Getting around

Dominican republic offers many different car rental companies. You’ll need a sense of adventure if heading to the south-west. A 4WD with GPS is best if exploring (road signs are infrequent). There extensive bus networks that make travelling easy.

No-frills buses travel set urban routes (known as guaguas; no more than RD$25) as do similar concho cars. There are also motoconchos (motorbike taxi; no more than RD$100 for a longer trip).

Cost of travel

The DR is inexpensive away from the resorts. A mid-range hotel costs around US$25-35 a day. Expect to pay around RD$100 for a sandwich and around RD$300 for fresh fish and tostones on the coast.

Accommodation

In Santo Domingo, Hotel Doña Elvira is a prettily restored colonial building in the historic centre with an internal courtyard (doubles from US$79).

In Pedernales, Doña Chava is a rustic-style family-run hotel that does a great breakfast. Jarabacoa’s Rancho Baiguate is an all-inclusive ranch catering to the booming adventure market (doubles from US$47 pp; including meals).

Food & drink

Comida criolla (traditional Dominican food) is delicious. On the coast you’ll have a choice of fish – grilled, steamed or deep-fried; rice, avocado and plantain are standard sides. Try mangú (mashed plantain with onions and salami) for breakfast–an energy boost for a day of outdoor activities.

Health & safety

There are no special requirements for the Dominican Republic; no vaccine certificates are needed. Malaria is present but not a high risk (apart from along the border with Haiti).

Dominica

Your full Wanderlust guide to

Dominica

Dominica

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Expand your travel horizons by exploring the underwater world of Dominica…dry off and explore the island’s above-water attractions
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“Make sure you plan your trip around one of Dominica’s national holidays – say, Independence Day (3 November) or Whit Monday (Eighth Monday after Easter). Try the local festive dish manicou (or agauti), which is smoked (or stewed) opossum served with generous helpings of rice, yucca and pumpkin. We opted for the less exotic vegetarian version, so we can’t really tell you what it tastes like, but the locals did insist that we were missing out on a very special culinary experience”

Su Rath

“The capital city Roseau is the cruise ship port. Outside of shopping, there’s little to do and see to warrant more than a short visit.”

Steven Green

Capital
Roseau
Language
English
Population
71,000
Int. dial code
+1
Visa
No visa required prior to entry, the permissible length of stay is granted on arrival. Any length longer than this must be applied and paid for.
Time zone
GMT-4
Voltage
220-240 V
Currency
Dominican Peso

“Unquestionably, the greatest thing to do on Dominica is to snorkel the Champagne Reef! It’s like swimming through a warm bath of bubbly, which is twice as nice as it sounds, actually.”

Jay Brock

Dutch Antilles

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Dutch Antilles

Dutch Antilles

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Capital
Willemstad
Languages
Papiamento, Dutch & English
Population
305,000
Int. dial code
+599
Visa
British passport holders do not need a visa for stays of up to 3 months
Time zone
GMT-4
Voltage
220 V
Currency
Dutch guilder

Ecuador

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Ecuador

Ecuador

Small but perfectly formed, Ecuador might be one of the smaller countries in South America but it packs a whole lot of attractions into its dramatically beautiful landscapes.

Bordered by the Pacific to the west, Ecuador’s coastline offers sandy beaches, great surf and fascinating wildlife: watch whales and sea lions galore in Machalilla National Park. Once dangerous, the city of Guayaquil has been thoroughly gentrified, with pastel-coloured buildings and a host of new restaurants, and is a good starting point for drives up the coast.

Moving inland in Ecuador you soon hit the Andes, where snow-topped peaks soar to over 6,000m. This is where you’ll find the capital, Quito, a majestic colonial settlement with churches and cathedrals, threaded with little alleyways and dotted with Indian market stalls.

South of Quito a line of volcanoes, many still active, run down the Andes past the hiking centre of Banos to the colonial city of Cuenca. North is the pretty little colonial town of Otovalo, with probably the best Indian market in South America. From here a network of trails thread past fields tacked onto impossibly steep slopes to reach remote mountain farming villages far off the grid.

Cross the Andes to the east and you’re into the Oriente, Ecuador’s hunk of the Amazon basin. The Andes squeeze rain from the sky to feed a biodiversity hotspot, crawling with wildlife and dense, tropical growth. Indigenous tribes are now exerting direct control over this wild, remote region: stay at an ecolodge owned by the locals to learn the area’s secrets.

And that’s just the Ecuadorian mainland. Offshore, the Galápagos Islands, Darwin’s ‘Laboratory of Nature’, offer close encounters with a natural world that has never learned to fear man. Explore the archipelago on live-aboard yachts to meet blue-footed boobies and swim with sealions.

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Learn a little Spanish – the Ecuadorians will appreciate it and it’s a great help when travelling in more remote areas. Research your Galápagos trip before you book and decide what’s important to you. You may be able to get cheaper deals if you book a cruise locally but by that time the best boats are likely to be booked up, especially in the peak months.

Capital
Quito
Language
Spanish
Population
17.9 million
Int. dial code
+593
Visa
You can visit Ecuador without a visa, but you may be asked about your reason for travel and to provide evidence of a return or onward flight/bus ticket when you arrive. On arrival in the country, you’ll normally be allowed to remain in Ecuador for up to 90 days within a 12 month period.
Time zone
GMT-5
Voltage
120 V
Currency
US dollar

When to go

Ecuador has several climatic zones, meaning it’s always the right time to be somewhere in the country. Ecuador’s capital Quito and the highlands have spring-like weather year round: warm days and cold nights, generally cooler and wetter from September to April. The Ecuadorian Amazon (or ‘Oriente’) is wet year round, though driest from December to March. The Ecuadorian coast is wet January-May and dry (but more overcast) June-December. The mountainous middle of Ecuador is driest June-September. The Galápagos Islands offer great wildlife-watching all year, though seas are choppier July-October. Semana Santa is enthusiastically celebrated at Easter throughout Ecuador.

International airports

Mariscal Sucre International (UIO) 10km from Quito; José Joaquín de Olmedo International (GYE) 5km from Guayaquil.

Getting around

Bus is one of the easiest ways to travel: these are cheap, frequent and serve most areas of Ecuador. Hiring a car is best if time is limited; all major rental agencies are represented in the big Ecuadorian cities. Train travel is an interesting sightseeing option: the Devil’s Nose is a hair-raising ride from Riobamba to Alausí along a series of gravity-defying switchbacks. Internal flights within Ecuador are useful for accessing remote lodges deep in the Amazon.

Accommodation

Accommodation in Ecuador comes in all shapes and sizes, and is generally very good value – especially the mid-range small hotels. Most interesting are Ecuador’s converted haciendas, family ranches that have been converted to put up the odd traveller; many are extremely characterful and offer activities such as horse-riding and country walking. Ecuador also has many homestays where you can learn Spanish and get involved in the life of a local family; Otavalo is a good bet for these. There are some incredible Amazon rainforest lodges buried deep in the Ecuadorian Oriente, accessible only by boat or small plane. These will give you an immersive Amazon experience; look for places owned by local tribes.

Food & drink

Ecuador’s soups are excellent. Try locro de papas, made of potatoes with cheese and avocado. Llapingachos are tasty potato and cheese cakes; corn dishes, such as tamaleshumitas and , are also common – and good options for vegetarians travelling in Ecuador. Most meals do contain meat, however.  Roast cuy (guinea pig) is available in some places; roast pig is more popular, presumably because there’s a lot more of it. Fresh seafood is widespread on the Ecuadorian coast. If on a budget, look for almuerzo (set lunches) but don’t burp afterwards: it’s considered very rude. Ecuadorian fruit juices are very good, and include moro, made from blackberries. Ecuador’s national beer is Pilsener and decent wine is increasingly easy to get.

Health & safety

Opportunistic theft is a risk. In Quito, take taxis at night, especially in La Mariscal area of the New Town. The altitude can take some adjusting to – Quito, entry point for most travellers arriving in Ecuador, is 2,850m. Take things slowly for the first couple of days and drink lots of water. Malaria is a risk, especially along the north coast and in the Ecuadorian Amazon region; seek advice on prophylaxis, take DEET-based insect repellent and cover up.

El Salvador

Your full Wanderlust guide to

El Salvador

El Salvador

Lively and incredibly friendly; packed with volcanoes, rich forests and craggy mountains; fringed by golden beaches and first-class waves which would satisfy the most adventurous surfers and sun-worshippers – El Salvador is a perfect one-stop destination. Most people have a love-hate relationship with the capital, San Salvador, but recent rejuvenation projects are drawing more visitors in. And beyond the city there are many compelling reasons for a visit.

The northern hills around El Poy and Perquín are a haven for trekkers; Cerro Verde National Park offers dramatic, horizon-filling landscapes filled with hot springs and countless waterfalls; a challenging scramble across the smoking cinder cone of Izalco volcano is rewarded by beautiful views over Lago de Coatepeque; and who could resist the draw of a national park called El Imposible? Oft overlooked Mayan ruins abound. Among the most spectacular is Joya de Cerén. Dubbed the “Pompeii of the Americas”, the site boasts a Mayan village once buried under layers of  volcanic ash from a nearby eruption. The perfectly preserved wattle and daub houses, complete with a Mayan steam room, or temazcal, and the ceremonial headquarters of a shaman, secure Joya de Cerén a place among the continent’s most intriguing archaeological sites.

To the south, long, sandy beaches prized by surfers for decades stretch along the Costa del Sol to the Gulf of Fonseca, dotted with islets and bays to explore. In the west, wander through coffee plantations, soak up the beauty of the Ruta de las Flores or simply laze around, watching the daily display of Pacific sunsets.

Women should try to avoid cat-calls; if you ignore them, the men usually lose interest.

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Wanderlust recommends

  1. Visit the haunting Museo de la Revolución Salvadoreña in Perquín
  2. Gallop off into the sunset on a horseriding trip in the rolling hills near Juayúa
  3. Try to resist the intricately carved wooden chests at craft village La Palma near the Honduran border
  4. Potter around the colonial town of Suchitoto
  5. Hike around the wonderfully named El Imposible – a mountain forest in the west that’s great for bird-watching
  6. Shop for souvenirs in the Mercado Cuartel in San Salvador
  7. Learn to surf on the black sand beaches of Playa El Tunco
  8. Step back in time: visit the the Tazumal ruins for a glimpse into Mayan life
  9. Save room for some pupusas, delicious maize-flour tortillas filled with shredded pork or cheese and black beans; the national dish of El Salvador

If you’re interested in a longer stay, you can volunteer to teach English or learn Spanish at Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad.

Capital
San Salvador
Languages
Spanish & Salvadoran Spanish
Population
6.4 million
Int. dial code
+503
Visa
British passport holders can enter El Salvador for tourism or business for up to 90 days without a visa
Time zone
GMT-6
Voltage
115 V
Currency
US Dollar

City centres can be dangerous places to be at night, especially the capital San Salvador. Exercise caution and seek local advice.

When to go to El Salvador

El Salvador’s temperature is a consistent and comfortable 28°C throughout the year. The rainy season lasts from May to October, although light rain is possible year round. The coast and lowland areas can feel hot and humid, especially between March and May.

International airports

Comalapa International Airport (SAL), 50 km from San Salvador.

Getting around in El Salvador

‘Chicken’ buses are cheap, reasonably efficient and a great way to get around this small country. Comfier coaches ply the route between San Miguel, Santa Rosa de Lima and La Unión. You can rent a car in San Salvador; local garages charge considerably less than the main rental companies. Cycling in El Salvador is recommended but you’ll need to bring your own bike and safety equipment.

El Salvador accommodation

Accommodation options in El Salvador are increasing but there are still only a limited number of hostels. Budget travellers will need to rely on cheap hotels. The majority of budget hotels are located in popular surf spots along the coast. Campsites are available at most lakes, parks and beaches. Book well ahead for Easter, Christmas and during local festivals.

Further Reading on travel in El Salvador

Witness to War: An American Doctor in El Salvador (HarperCollins, 1985) by Charles Clements. A classic story that was made into a film

Still Love in Strange Places (WW Norton & Co, 2003) by Beth Kephart. True story about marrying a man from El Salvador

Footprint guide to El Salvador (Lonely Planet, 2011)

Health & safety in El Salvador

El Salvador isn’t nearly as dangerous as its reputation suggests. However, street crime does occur so avoid carrying valuables and do your best to blend in. At night, take taxis rather than walk, especially in the larger cities and be wary of taking out large amounts of
cash from ATMs. Speak to your doctor or travel clinic about vaccinations and protection against malaria. Drink bottled water.

El Salvador food & drink

What El Salvador lacks in refined dining it makes up for in the quality of quantity of its fresh ingredients. Look for lunch deals in local restaurants. Try pupusas (small tortillas stuffed with cheese, beans or shredded pork), mariscada (seafood served in a creamy soup) or sopa de frijoles (bean soup). Oysters (ostras) in El Salvador are very special indeed, as is the fresh coffee. Vegetarians won’t starve.

Cuba

Your full Wanderlust guide to

Cuba

Cuba

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Capital
Havana
Languages
Spanish
Population
11.3 million
Int. dial code
+53
Visa
Visa required prior to entry
Time zone
GMT-4
Voltage
110-220 V
Currency
Cuban Convertible Peso

Falkland Islands

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Falkland Islands

Falkland Islands

An archipelago of more than 740 islands just 480km east of Patagonia, the Falkland Islands are a natural paradise in the South Atlantic Ocean. Half the size of Wales, the islands boast white sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters and an abundance of native and migratory wildlife with over 227 species of bird and 14 species of marine mammal.

Stanley is a colourful seaside capital, home to 85% of the population, but if it’s a walk on the wild side you’re after, head to the outlying islands and settlements.  Each spring, beaches are crowded with breeding elephant seals and sea lions and up to five breeding species of penguin.

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Capital
Stanley
Languages
English
Population
Around 2,500 excluding military garrison
Int. dial code
+500
Visa
Time zone
GMT-4 (Sep-Apr GMT-3)
Voltage
220/240 V 50 Hz AC
Currency
Falkland Islands pound (FK£).The Standard Charter Bank in Stanley can cash travellers cheques and issue cash advances against Visa and Mastercard credit cards. There are no ATMs in the Falkland Islands. UK sterling notes and coins are often accepted. Changing any South American currencies while you’re out there is nigh on impossible.
Falkland Islands travel advice
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Falkland Islands tourism board
Falkland Islands tourism

Wanderlust recommends

Hang out with tufty rockhopper penguins and lolling elephant seals

Go horse trekking at Crooked Inlet, a sheep and cattle farm

Pack your binoculars and head to Carcass Island; an idyllic place (despite the name) with superb birdlife

Take a Land Rover safari to Sparrow Cove and Kidney Cove

Visit the Falkland Islands Museum in Stanley, an Aladdin’s cave of island artefacts

Wanderlust tips

For added adventure, consider arriving by ship. Island shipping has a regular service to Punta Arenas in southern Chile. Pick up the weekly Penguin News, out on Fridays, to get a handle on island life.

When to go

Oct-March is the summer season with plenty of sunshine and average temperatures reaching 15?C. December and January offer the longest days. Expect changeable weather and bring clothing to cope with wind, rain and cold – the Falklands are as close to the South Pole as London is to the North. September is the month when wildlife starts to return to the island to breed. There are few visitors in the winter months between April and August.

International airports

Fly from RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, or British Airways to Santiago and connect with a LAN Chile flight.

Getting around

The Falkland Islands Government Air Service operates light aircraft flights between Stanley and most settlements and islands. Flights are scheduled according to demand, with departure times and passenger lists announced by radio on the evening prior to your flight. The Falkland Islands Company has 4WDs for hire, including Land Rover Defenders. Taxis and airport transfers are available, and there is also a ferry service between East and West Falkland.  Cycling is hard work thanks to strong winds, stony gravel roads and a lack of drinking water along routes.

Accommodation

Accommodation is scarce in the Falklands Islands and you’ll need to book ahead, especially on the smaller islands. Stanley has a choice of B&Bs, guesthouses and a few hotels. Further out, you’ll find homestays, self-catering cottages and some very basic ex-military Portakabins. Try the one at The Neck on Saunders Island: it’s right next to the penguin colonies. Camping is only possible with the permission of landowners.

Food & drink

Mutton is cheap and plentiful and likely to appear in various forms on every menu you read. Seafood is not particularly popular on the Falkland Islands, but local squid, mullet and sea trout are usually excellent when you can get hold of them. Look out for the wonderfully named diddle-dee berries – used in jams – and the sweeter teaberries baked in cakes and pies. English staples like fish and chips, pasties and sausage rolls can be washed down with a glass or three of Chilean red wine. Vegetarians are not particularly well catered for.

Health & safety

There are no major health issues, but you need to drive slowly on gravel roads, observe minefield warning signs and keep at least 6m from potentially dangerous male elephant seals. Always stay on the outside of bird and seal colonies to avoid disturbance.

French Guiana

Your full Wanderlust guide to

French Guiana

French Guiana

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Capital
Cayenne
Languages
French and many indigenous languages
Population
220,000
Int. dial code
+594
Visa
Time zone
GMT-3
Voltage
110 V or 230 V depending on location
Currency
Euro EUR. ATMs are widespread and accept most credit and debit cards. Travellers cheques can be easily exchanged in most banks.
French Guiana travel advice
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
French Guiana tourism board
French Guiana tourism

Colombia

Your full Wanderlust guide to

Colombia

Colombia
El Peñol in Guatapé, Colombia (Shutterstock)

Colombia is the only country in South America blessed with both Pacific and Caribbean coastlines. It’s also the second most biodiverse country in the world, boasting over 4,200 species of orchid and over 1,900 bird species. This biodiversity, spanning multiple altitudes, biomes and climates, means that Colombia is rich not only in natural phenomena but also gastronomic flavour, Indigenous cultures and languages, and intricate musical rhythms.

Whether you head for the abundant coffee region, the sweeping coastal sand dunes in La Guajira, the lush jungle in the Amazonía region or you scale the heights of the Andes mountains, Colombia offers a lifetime of meaningful adventures and rich cultural experiences that will stay with you long after you return home.

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Capital
Bogotá
Languages
Spanish primarily and 65 other indigenous languages are also spoken
Population
52 million
Int. dial code
+57
Visa
UK passport holders can stay for up to 90 days without a visa
Time zone
UTC-5
Plug Type
Type A and Type B
Currency
Colombian Peso COP

When to go to Colombia

Colombia’s dry season, or verano (summer) is December to March, with a second dry period mid-June to mid-August (except in the northern plains). These are the best times to visit and when most festivals take place. Temperatures are fairly constant year round, varying with altitude more than season.

International airports

Bogotá’s El Dorado Airport (BOG) is 15km away from the city centre. From the UK, there are direct flights with avianca from London Heathrow. You can also fly via Madrid with Iberia or Air Europa, via Paris with Air France, or via Amsterdam with KLM. Flight time is approximately 11 hours; return fares start from £700.

Getting around in Colombia

Bus services on paved roads are generally good. Many small towns are served by minibuses or shared taxis known as colectivos on journeys of up to three hours, leaving when the vehicle is full. Domestic flights in Colombia are a good option if you’re short on time and are generally not too expensive; look at airlines such as LATAM, avianca, Wingo and JetSmart. If driving or cycling, be extremely careful due to occasionally poor road conditions and speeding drivers.

Health & safety

Visit your GP or travel health clinic well before departure to check that your jabs are up-to-date. Ideally, bring your yellow fever inoculation certificate to Colombia. Wear DEET repellent to ward off mosquitoes. Protection from the sun is essential. Altitude sickness is a risk in the mountains, particularly in Bogotá which is at 2,625m altitude – try to acclimatise slowly. Drink bottled or purified water. The main places to guard against opportunistic crime are bus stations, unlicensed cabs, markets and when leaving clubs. Don’t have your mobile phone, camera or glistening jewellery too obviously on display, particularly when walking through busy urban streets.

Visit gov.uk for more advice.

Galapagos Islands

Your full Wanderlust guide to

Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands

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