2013, what happened to you? You flew by in a flurry of tall structures sprouting from famous skylines (London’s Shard and New York’s One World Trade Center, to name but two), and grounded us with airline-related news such as the Dreamliner’s teething troubles and, er, Ryanair turning all nice.
Our carefully constructed travel plans were hit by issues ranging from the US government’s temporary shutdown, which paralysed the country’s national parks, to the ongoing problems in the Middle East (although some countries in the region, such as Tunisia, show signs of recovery).
And, as per usual, the Lonely Planet team laced up their comfiest travelling shoes and hit the road - read on to find out a bit more about 2013’s travel highlights for some of the people bringing you this website.
Explosive celebrations in India
Visiting Delhi during the Hindu festival of lights was my most unforgettable travel experience of 2013. I knew Diwali would be colourful and chaotic, and the deafening fireworks on every corner didn’t disappoint. But staying with family friends allowed me to glimpse the spiritual side of the festival too: lighting dozens of candles outside their home, taking part in a puja ceremony (a ritual offering to the gods) on Diwali eve, and – of course – eating endless rounds of delicious barfi (butter-rich sweets topped with silver). My first trip to India expanded my worldview, and my waistline.
Secret corners of Lanzarote, Spain
Lanzarote surprised me with secret coves of toasted sand and blue-green waves; get to the Papagayo Coast early enough and you’ll be treated to your own private beach and a Sahara Desert dust-hazed sky. Inland, the otherworldly volcanic landscape of Timanfaya National Park sprawls across the craggy black earth for miles, still emanating fierce heat from eruptions past. The endless sunshine was no surprise, but very welcome for this vitamin D-deprived Brit. Not your average package holiday destination, after all.
Chance encounter with hummingbirds
I crossed off a bonafide bucket-lister this year: a trek to Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas. This hallucinatory hilltop citadel lived up to its billing, but the standout moment of my trip to Peru took place in the valley below as I wandered the grounds of our hotel in Aguas Calientes. To my astonishment, I discovered a charm of hummingbirds duelling around a feeder dangling from a branch, alighting on the rim every so often to sip sugared water through their exquisitely delicate beaks. I crept to within a few feet - alas, as they glittered in the undersea gloom beneath the canopy, my camera struggled to capture these darting, finely wrought little jewels.
Wild weather in the British Isles
Whale-watching from the Portsmouth-to-Bilbao ferry stands out, as does thundering across the half-submerged Hebridean islands of South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist and Berneray on a bike with an Atlantic gale at my back. It was the British Isles at their wildest.
Unforgettable views in Montenegro
Mount Lovćen in Montenegro. An Eastern European gem that you may never have heard of, but impressive beyond belief – wind your way up the serpentine road for dramatic views of the Bay of Kotor that will leave you in awe.
Otherworldly silence in the Negev Desert
Standing on the brink of the otherworldly Makhtesh Ramon in the Negev Desert. The complete absence of plant or animal life creates an eerie, almost deathly silence that is frequently shattered by the piercing roar of ground-hugging Israeli military jets patrolling the nearby Egyptian border. The subsequent six-hour journey to Eilat on a bus shared with 60 teenage military recruits and a very angry-looking commander (who was sitting next to the only free seat) easily beats even the craziest of chicken buses, and qualifies as my most surreal travel experience yet.
Subzero adventures in Siberia
To escape London’s dreary February drizzle, I went to Lake Baikal in Siberia to experience proper winter. The world’s deepest freshwater lake was completely frozen, and it was an extraordinary sight to see four-wheel drives gliding past boats trapped in the ice. At that time of year, Listvyanka is a cute lakeside village where locals are happy to chat over glasses of home-brewed beer and plates of smoked fish.
Off the beaten track in Serbia
Going to ‘the beach’ in a landlocked country was a travel first for me in 2013. Those looking for somewhere a bit more laid-back for a European summer holiday can easily fill a couple of weeks in Serbia, taking in beautiful Byzantine art in Belgrade, exploring the laneway bars of Novi Sad, and dancing until dawn around the grounds of the 18th-century Petrovaradin Citadel, then recharging by lounging along the Štrand and refuelling with pivo and ćevapčići. Watching fields of sunflowers roll by was almost as beautiful as the Art Nouveau splendour of Subotica. I suspect Serbia won’t stay off the beaten track for long.
Hidden coves in Colombia
My most memorable travel experience of 2013 has to be in Tayrona National Park, Colombia, during my six-week honeymoon in South America. After trekking through jungle-like surroundings for three hours in the midday sun, we were rewarded with an incredible find: a beautiful, unspoilt and deserted beach. It felt like we were the first to come across this natural beauty and I wanted never to leave! After hours of swimming and sunbathing, we were finally forced to go back to civilisation as we’d run out of bottled water. I’ll always remember that day.
Anna Harris, Traveller Communications Analyst.