Saturday, 17 December 2016

Mexico, Palenque, Nututun Hotel by the Chacamax River

Nututun Hotel, Palenque ©Solange Hando

On the edge of the jungle, Nututun claims a quiet riverside location, just a five minute drive from Palenque, one of the great archaeological sites in Mexico. After a hot day exploring the Maya ruins, the Nututun pool complete with jacuzzi is sure to be a welcome sight.

History aside, Nututun is just an hour away from the beautiful Agua Azul  waterfalls, one of the most scenic spots in the Mexican state of Chiapas.

Reception Area, Nututun ©Solange Hando

The thatched open-sided reception doubles up as lounge area close to the river, with accommodation on one side and on the other, the Don Manuel restaurant with balcony overlooking the water.
Besides the swimming pool and bar, Nututun amenities include a spa for beauty treatments, massage, wrap and Aztec sauna. There's also a gift shop and camping area.

Lush Garden, Nututun near Palenque ©Solange Hando

Hotel accommodation is in bungalows and low rise buildings scattered in spacious grounds among palms, hedges and lawns.
It's only a few steps to the river where guests can kayak or swim. There, away from it all, little disturbs the peace but the occasional call of howler monkeys or crickets after dark.

Twin Room at the Nututun ©Solange Hando

The Nututun hotel has 74 rooms from standard (up to 4 guests) to suites, furnished in traditional style with warm bedding and cool walls. Rooms are comfortable and spacious with all modern amenities, including telephone and TV, while suites also have a minibar, large shower room and bath tub.
Rooms have garden or pool view, some with private terrace. Free WiFi is available in public areas.

Dawn on the Chacamax River ©Solange Hando

At breakfast time, early  guests can watch the sun rise all pink and gold over the water as myriad tropical birds welcome the new day.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Tikal, Lost City of the Maya in Guatemala

Tikal Iconic Temple ©Solange Hando

Over 3000 Maya structures are scattered in the Peten jungle but the lost city which gives its name to the National Park is the most impressive.
Early archaeologists cleared a few monuments, such as Temple I seen above, but today, remains are deliberately left in their natural environment, eerie and hauntingly beautiful. Tikal means 'Voices of the Spirits'.

Exploring Tikal ©Solange Hando

It's hot and humid in the subtropical forest but beyond Temple I and nearby structures, the best way  to explore is on foot.
There's plenty to discover along the way, from jungle-covered ruins to rare plants and trees, such as  the 'incense stick' or the tall Ceiba or 'stairway to heaven'.
You might spot howling monkeys up in the trees but small tigers and jaguars keep well away, as do crocs and venomous snakes unless you stray off the well-marked trails.

View from the Top of Temple IV ©Solange Hando

When you approach Temple IV, the highest, only the top peeps above the trees  but a carefully concealed stairway takes you up to a viewing platform. There the jungle unfolds as far as you can see, bristling here and here with abandoned Maya ruins.
There's no better place to reflect on this lost city, founded in 600 BC, a place where arts and science flourished under the watchful eye of the gods and an ongoing building boom catered for up to 100,00 people.

A Colourful Resident ©Solange Hando

Where there's a bench, there's humans and this bright ocellated turkey knows it well, hoping for crumbs as you take a break on your hot 6 km walk around the main complex.
But it's only one of the many creatures you might meet, alongside 352 species of birds and 535 of butterflies.

Expect Lots of Steps ©Solange Hando

Once you've had a rest, there's always more to explore, plazas and palaces, twin pyramids, acropolis,temples, altars, rock sculpture...
Yet all along, one can't help wondering why after 1500 years, this thriving city was abandoned, drought, war, disease, no one knows, but at least it was rediscovered in the 19th century and remains to this day one of the most atmospheric sites in the Maya world.

Lake Tikal ©Solange Hando

After a long day in the jungle, Lake Tikal is just a drive away, the perfect place to relax and enjoy a fabulous sunset.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Travel Writing? Take Photos, Sell Stories

Take Pictures, Sell Features ©Solange Hando

What images do editors want?
Telling a story
No need for sophisticated equipment,
 Just be ready and capture the moment

Getting up Close, Taking Photos ©Solange Hando

What else should you aim for?
Close ups and distance
People and scenery
Action shots
Landmarks? Take the usual view and an unusual angle
The more, the better, you never know what you will need
Think multiple markets and multiple sales

Sweet Tooth in Kathmandu ©Solange Hando

Have you seen this anywhere?
Probably not
Original, colourful and a cheeky monkey

Be prepared
Look around
The unexpected is always best

Ladakh Scenery, India ©Solange Hando

But most magazines like to add a semblance of life
Could be
a human being, cattle, sheep, a bicycle, a rucksack, a book on a bench

Top Tips 
Don't be so obsessed with the camera you'll miss what's going on right behind you
Have pictures of yourself on location, someone will ask you for that
Make sure the images you send match your chosen market, just as the words should do

Would you like to know more?
Here's everything you need to Be a Travel Writer 

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Morocco Popular Film Locations

Ait Benhaddou in Morocco ©Solange Hando

Clear skies, scenery and light, Morocco is a magnet for film producers and cinema fans, with locations spreading from exotic towns to Berber villages, from ocean to mountains and deserts scattered with rose gardens and ribbons of palms.

Clinging to a barren hill mirrored in a red river, Ait Benhaddou is a World Heritage site as well as a top movie location, featured in Sheltering Sky, The Mummy, Gladiator, Jewel of the Nile and many more.

Film Studios in Ouarzazate ©Solange Hando

At 1160 metres, Ouarzazate enjoys a privileged location between mountains and desert, at the meeting point of two rivers. First brought to the fore by David Lean, the studios are among the largest in the world.

Cleopatra, The Living Daylight, Babel, The Man Who Would Be King included scenes shot in Ouarzazate.

Marrakesh, Djemaa el Fna Square ©Solange Hando

At the foot of the Atlas mountains, Marrakesh guarantees an authentic atmosphere in the most exotic setting.  Gleaming palaces and bustling souks, palm groves and ramparts, it's all you expect it to be but most exciting is the Djemaa el Fna Square where the daring Bill from Mamma Mia was seen racing his bike.

The old imperial city also appeared in Brideshead Revisited, Alexander and The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Dawn in the Moroccan Desert ©Solange Hando

Drama, romance, adventure, Morocco has seen it all but in the deep south, you can still imagine Lawrence of Arabia riding into the desert, just as he did in the legendary film.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Love Travel, Sell Stories? Top Tips, Perfect Fit

Flying High over Everest ©Solange Hando

Want to be a travel writer?
The sky's the limit
But before you write your story, choose your market
Imagine the readers
Is this a suitable age group?
The right destination for them, their interests, budget?

An editor might love your story but if it's not right for the readers, they can't take it
Editors know best, their jobs depend on it.

Market in Guatemala, Make it Fit ©Solange Hando

Right market?
Check the format:
Word count
Paragraphs, long or short
Subtitles breaking up the copy
Length of sentences
Choice of words
Is there a fact box?

Bhutanese Steps, Just Right for the Job? ©Solange Hando

Now check the details
1st or 3rd person
Does the writer address the readers?
Is the tone formal or chatty?
Any dialogue?
 Any reference to local characters or travelling companions?
Quotes or anecdotes?
Is atmosphere important or is it mostly facts?

And the finer points
Distance, weights, metric or imperial?
Numbers, letters or figures?
Contractions, isn't or is not?

Would you like to know more?
Only 100 pages on the road to success

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Isle of Man Images, Enjoy the Scenery

The Sound and Calf of Man ©Solange Hando

So close to home yet so different, that's the Isle of Man, just 13 x 33 miles, a Crown Dependency, not part of the UK, but claiming the world's longest running Parliament.

Then if history isn't enough, there's the scenery, most spectacular along the coastal path the Calf of Man and the strait, known as the Sound. It's a fabulous place to spot dolphins and seals, seabirds including guillemots, the 'penguins of the north', and if you're lucky, the odd basking shark.

Isle of Man ©Solange Hando

Rolling hills, flower meadows and farmland where four-horned sheep graze undisturbed, the interior is delightful yet for ever changing, rising through heath land and moors to Snaefell, at over 2000 feet, the highest point on the island.

Walk up or hop aboard the Victorian mountain railway and when you get up there on a clear day, you will see seven kingdoms, Man, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England, Heaven and Sea.

Fairy Bridge ©Solange Hando

Manx history spans an amazing 10,000 years, all vividly explained in the Manx Museum, but here legends have a special place too and are respected by every islander.

This is the land of fairies and little people. They live in leafy glens, they sleep in the trees, bathe in the streams and it's always a good idea to greet them when you walk over an ancient bridge, just in case. Best keep luck on your side.

Coastal Walk, Isle of Man ©Solange Hando

Especially if you intend tackling the Way of the Gull, a 95 mile long coastal path, challenging at times, laced with crevices and chasms, cliffs, rocks and windswept open land.

Check the forecast, be prepared and if you have little experience, join a group.

Port Erin ©Solange Hando

But there are plenty of rewards along the way from broad sands to tiny coves and blue inlets of the sea shimmering with myriad reflections.

Grassy slopes, dramatic headlands, hills rising towards the hinterland, the scenery takes your breath away, glorious in brilliant sunshine, eerie when the mist rolls in from the open sea.

Sunset over Douglas from the Headland ©Solange Hando

Wherever you are on the isle, Douglas, the capital is never far away, a traditional seaside resort with a Jubilee Clock, flower gardens and a statue of Sir William Hillary who founded the Lifeboat Institution in 1824.

Then of course, there's the beach and the vintage transport so dear to the Isle of Man, from the old  electric and steam railways to the horse-drawn trams which add their own touch of nostalgia along the seafront promenade.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Essaouira, Autumn Sunshine in Morocco

Essaouira Fishing Harbour ©Solange Hando

In the luminous bay of Mogador, an easy drive from Marrakech, Essaouira greets you with a pretty blue harbour and 18th century fortifications glowing honey-coloured under the African sun. It is all part of a World Heritage site celebrating this ancient trading post.

The trade winds from the Atlantic once brought merchants and sailors from far and wide and today they delight savvy visitors. They come to relax on the sweeping sands and enjoy some of the best wind and kite surfing along the coast. 

Essaouira Colourful Souk ©Solange Hando

Once a hippies' favourite, Essaouira is a sleepy little place these days except during the annual Gnaoua World Music Festival when the whole town vibrates to African beats.

Meanwhile, winter or summer, this sunny resort offers some of the best bargains around with almost no hassle at all. Best buys include rugs, wall hangings, traditional lamps and ceramics, thuya wood carvings and argan oil cosmetics. You can see the thorny argan trees on the road to Marrakech where goats clamber up the branches to feast on the precious nuts. 

Quiet Corner in the Medina (Old Town) ©Solange Hando

But most of all, Essaouira is a relaxed sort of place and just steps away from the stalls, there are plenty of quiet corners and alleyways where blue mosaics glisten here and there and craftsmen and artisans pursue their trade away from prying eyes.

Spices in Essaouira ©Solange Hando

By lunch time, the tantalising fragrance of Morrocan tagine drifts across the lanes and you may well be tempted to head back to the stalls and look for the best spices to take home.

They are surprisingly affordable, beautifully presented, and scent and colour are hard to resist. Bargaining is usual but as elsewhere in Morocco, be fair and know when to stop.

 Fish Restaurants ©Solange Hando

Between park and harbour, these blue and white casual venues serve an amazing array of seafood, fresh from the ocean. It's an absolute treat and one of the top attractions in Essaouira.

Time for a Siesta ©Solange Hando

Just don't expect the buzz of city life (that's down the coast in Agadir), but if you'd love a laid back holiday in the sun and a genuine Moroccan atmosphere, this little blue resort may be just right.

According to the locals, autumn is the best time to visit when the wind often dies down but temperatures remain pleasantly warm.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Like to Be a Travel Writer? Dream Job, Free Trips?

Nepal, Annapurna from Pokhara ©Solange Hando

Here's how it works
Decide where to go, find a suitable publication
Right readership, age group, budget, high circulation a bonus
Pitch to editor
Commission? Brilliant
Move to the next step.

Tobago, Dream Destination ©Solange Hando

Approach the relevant Tourist Board or their PR
Explain what you need, why, and ask if they can help
You might be invited on a group visit or offered an individual trip
How long?
Usually 2 to 4 nights depending on distance/flights

If not:
It's time for DIY
Approach hotels, airlines, railways etc. or tour operators
Before you commit:
Check exactly what is offered
Make sure the publication can credit your hosts
Ready to go?

Time to Write, Fishguard, Pembrokeshire

Remember this is a business trip, not a holiday, expect to work hard
On a group visit be prepared to compromise
Act professional at all times
Thank your hosts and send a copy of your article in due course
Keep in touch with PR, editors, writers you met

Ask for hospitality in the high season
Complain non-stop on a trip if you want to be asked again
Gossip about editors, they may hear about it
Chase commissions during a trip, any editor on a trip has work to do

Press Trip in Haute-Provence, France ©Solange Hando

Hard work? Sure
Have fun
Your hosts will be delighted

Now, would you like to find out more and follow your dream?
Here's everything you need to know to be a travel writer 
Good luck and enjoy

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Agua Azul Waterfall, Mexico near Palenque

Agua Azul near Palenque, Mexico ©Solange Hando

Barely an hour from the Maya ruins of Palenque, Agua Azul is one of the most stunning waterfalls in the Chiapas State of Mexico, south of the Yucatan peninsula.

It may not compare with Victoria or Iguazu  but at the confluence of several streams, it's an impressive series of cataracts and rapids which you can explore along a steep 7 km trail with rest and picnic spots along the way.

Rainforest and Rocks ©Solange Hando

On a site managed by the local community within the National Park, the waterfall looks almost surreal, all shades of turquoise and blue framed by lush green jungle.

The highest drop is just six metres but there are cliffs and shallow canyons, islands and here and there trees and rocks eerily coated in solidified limestone.

Agua Azul, Meeting of the Waters, Mexico ©Solange Hando

When the light travels through these mineral rich waters, all the colours are absorbed except blue (azul) which then bounces back from the river bed to the surface.

Every cascade is different but to see the colours at their best, it's best to avoid the rainy season, around June to October, when the water is often murky.

Blue, White, Green and Gold at Agua Azul©Solange Hando

The falls attract a fair number of visitors but few venture far from the first cascades and  market stalls so birdwatchers and trekkers are sure find a quiet place to relax and enjoy the scenery.

Swimming and rafting are allowed in designated areas though even there, one should beware of currents and underwater rocks or trees. Fatalities have occurred and the most treacherous stretch goes by the ominous name of 'liquidiser'. 

Agua Azul Favourite Spot ©Solange Hando

But for those who prefer to take it easy, nothing beats the obligatory photo stop by Agua Azul's favourite cascade.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Images of Pembrokeshire Coast, Scenic Wales

West Wales, Pembrokeshire Coast ©Solange Hando

The Pembrokeshire coastal path meanders over 80 miles to reveal some of the most gorgeous scenery in the country but if you're not up for the challenge, just take to the road and seek out a few of the beauty spots.
Broad beaches or secluded coves, rugged cliffs, grassy slopes, quiet harbours, the landscape is delightful and for ever changing.

Harbour in Lower Fishguard ©Solange Hando

Nestling in a crescent of wooded hills, the lower town of Fishguard has a lovely little harbour which inspires myriad artists and writers. No wonder the writers holiday is so popular. It is held twice a year in Goodwick's Bay Hotel and runs painting as well as writing courses.
But Fishguard also has a place in history for it is here that the last invasion on British soil was repelled, with the help of local women. Don't miss the fabulous tapestry depicting the event in the town library, entrance is free.

Footpath near St Davids Head ©Solange Hando

The colourful village of St Davids claims to be the smallest city in Britain thanks to a superb medieval cathedral tucked out of sight in a green hollow. It is of course dedicated to the patron saint of Wales.
Just like the namesake headland jutting out into the sea with spectacular views on both sides. It's accessed only on foot but you can see it from the popular Whitesands Bay.

Solva in Pembrokeshire ©Solange Hando

On this finely indented coast, you will find many fjord-like inlets which never lose their charm, even at low tide.
Look out for Solva where you can stroll along the  harbour or head for the clifftop to enjoy glorious views.

St Catherine's Island in Tenby ©Solange Hando

Down south you come to Tenby, long known as 'little England beyond Wales', an elegant resort with a picturesque harbour, sandy beach and fabulous views.
Explore the cobbled lanes, walk to the island at low tide, or hop on a boat, then lunch on crab salad or fresh fish down by the harbour.

Freshwater East, Pembrokeshire ©Solange Hando

Here's a wild beguiling spot away from it all with broad sweeping sands backed by dunes protected by a nature reserve. Along the coast are stunning red sandstone cliffs, just one of the scenic wonders in Pembrokeshire.