Hiking Volcanoes on Fogo Island in Cape Verde

Fogo Island, the land of fire, erupted back into life in 2014 when Pico de Fogo recorded one of the strongest eruptions ever recorded on the island. However, it’s highly likely you’ve never even heard of it due to Cape Verde’s isolation, I mean no-one cares because it isn’t affecting our air travel, right? We’re so fickle!

One of the main reasons I ventured to Cape Verde was so I could visit Fogo and in particular Pico de Fogo – the active volcano! The island itself consists of only one volcano that is almost round, this is because more than 73,000 years ago the eastern side of Fogo collapsed that caused a catastrophic tsunami that struck another of Cape Verde’s islands, Santiago.

Taken from an Airbus cockpit by the pilot
Source: Wikipedia

The amazing thing about this island, unlike the majority of Cape Verde’s other rather dry and flat neighbours is that it produces a large amount of not only fruit and vegetables but also beautiful coffee and wine. Although sadly the quantity isn’t significant enough to export, I was able to buy some coffee beans to bring back and believe me it’s some of the best I’ve tried as it has a raw natural sweetness that adds to its charm.

Cape Verde’s islands are all so unique and different, they could all in fact be different countries. Fogo reminded me of mainland Africa, from its cuisine of spicy chicken to the laid-back culture and frozen in time feeling, you will well and truly be on Africa-time. The languages spoken here are mostly French and Creole, due to many of its residents originating from Senegal and the mainland.

Since meeting my partner, things on my travels have slightly changed for me and I’ve had to think in very different ways when it comes to planning. This is because he has two children from a previous marriage and this often leads to me trying to figure out is it family friendly, is it LGBT+ friendly, will it be dangerous? Quite a culture shock considering some of the places I’ve previously visited, I don’t adapt very well but I can honestly say the two munchkins absolutely loved it!

You can in fact hike all the way to the top of Pico de Fogo, thankfully I’m not that insane, and as this trip was a family adventure we opted to do the slightly easier Pico Pequeno peak instead.

However, here’s how we got on…

Fogo is pretty much just straight up in the middle so to get there you’ll encounter some incredible scenery, and an amazingly good road to drive on!

As you begin to ascend you’ll notice the incredible crater landscape and the lava flow that occurred

Even looking straight up at the very top of Pico de Fogo is scary, let alone climbing it. Not for me!

Ok, so I didn’t climb the whole thing, but it certainly felt like it!

The View from Pico Piqueno

Walking along this path is fairly treacherous, especially if you aren’t very steady on your feet as the small stones move, a lot, meaning if you put one foot wrong you could slip all the way to the bottom.

The nearby villages were pretty much destroyed, this one was overcome by lava.

Even though they were completely destroyed, it appears that some people are beginning to venture back to their homes!

One of the most amazing and unique parts of Fogo is the fact that vines grow in the volcanic soil that helps the islanders to produce good-quality wine, make sure you head for a wine tasting and purchase some!

The best bit, no matter whether you do the small or big part of the volcano, reward yourself with a local Strela beer – YUM!

How can you visit Fogo Island?

Well, unfortunately there’s only one airline that fly there, Binter CV, although they aren’t expensive they have some serious issues with time-keeping. Our return flight back to Praia was delayed by 2.5 hours and almost cancelled, which seems to be a regular occurrence on this route so be sure to not get stuck on this tiny island as there is only one flight!

As I was short on time I decided to hire a guide to find out more about the island, its volcano and their quirks but sadly it seems I didn’t pick a great one. His command of English was fairly limited and now I’ve returned to the U.K I’ve actually learned more about Fogo from the internet than I did from him, so sadly I won’t be recommending the “Fogo Guide” (sometimes known as Creole Guide on Fogo).

It is a 2829m hike to the top of Pico de Fogo, so it isn’t for the faint-hearted but thankfully the Pico Pequeno can easily be hiked in approximately 1-2 hours roundtrip. Other than seeing the volcano, sadly there isn’t a huge amount of other things to do so I’d spend a maximum two nights here, but that’s just my personal opinion.

Sao Filipe – the capital of Fogo Island, Cape Verde

São Filipe

It’s well worth spending an hour or so wandering aimlessly around the rather steep streets of the capital on Fogo Island, Sao Filipe. It easily reminded me of Havana in Cuba or Massawa in Eritrea with its slightly run down but charming buildings and architecture. It’s currently on the contender list for UNESCO World Heritage status, only time will tell whether they actually achieve a place.

One of its best features is the beautiful black sandy beach which stretches quite a way and it can easily feel like you it’s just you and the sea as very few people come down here, mostly thanks to the fact that the town is raised up above a rocky edge.

This place can seem very isolated so if you have a cancelled flight or the sea is too rough for the ferry to head over to Brava island, you might get a bit stuck. There’s also no ATMs anywhere and nowhere seemed to take cards so make sure you bring all of your money with you!

Praia da Bila is a beautiful black sand beach located just a short from the centre of Sao Filipe

Further Information?

Fancy exploring more of Cape Verde? Discover the top things to see on Sal Island in Cape Verde.

If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.

All images copyrighted, if you wish to use any images produced in this blog article please contact me.

Top 5 things to see on Sal Island, Cape Verde

Sal; officially the “No Stress” island! The tourism industry in Cape Verde has come a long way in the last five years with brand new, exclusive resorts popping up all along the coastline. As the most popular destination for international tourists, it was my first calling point on my Cabo Verde adventure.

I’m quite obsessed about doing research before visiting any destination, I know, sometimes it can spoil it but sometimes it is also necessary to avoid any nasty surprises. Although there isn’t a huge amount to see here luckily I found a tour that encompassed all the hotspots to visit on the island as I was short on time, so I’ve compiled my top 5 favourite things to see and do on Sal.

My advice is to go with an open mind, it might be a little rough around the edges but don’t forget “no stress”!

An incredible experience, I had better photos but sadly my camera has decided to die on me :o(

Swim with Sharks

Yes, you read that correctly, I said you can swim WITH SHARKS! Thankfully for you, they are baby lemon sharks that are placid and are harmless. This was one of the things I was most looking forward to doing when I booked my trip to Cape Verde, there’s very few places in the world that enable you to get this close.

When you arrive in the rather appropriately named Shark Bay, you’ll be offered to rent a pair of rubber shoes that will protect your feet when walking over the coral to get to where the sharks hang out. Although I still found it pretty uncomfortable, they are well worth the €2 fee as the seller will come out to sea with you to help you spot the sharks.

I was impressed about was the fact that they wouldn’t let you get too close, one tourist was dragged back to avoid disturbing the sharks in their natural habitat.

Salinas de Pedra de Lume (the Salt Lake)

Take a dip in Salinas de Pedra de Lume (the Salt Lake)

Sal in Portuguese means Salt, the island has been producing it for more than 200 years, although sadly it is no longer exported due to lack of demand. Similar to the Dead Sea, although on a much smaller scale, you can float in one of their salt lakes.

I decided not to take part in this, simply because I’d done it previously, but it will cost you €5 for entry. Other tourists who took part in this mentioned that it much saltier than the Dead Sea

The Mirage of Sal Island

See the Mirage

It’s a cliche I know, but you truly can see an actual mirage that looks like there’s water on the horizon. I think it might have also helped that they offered us free alcohol in the Desert Bar!

Buracona – Blue Eye Cave
Top Left: My Version. Top Right: An Official Photo
I know, mine is pathetic right…

Buracona – visit the Blue Eye

So, I was tempted to leave this place off my list for several reasons including the fact that they charge €3 entry and make you queue for ages whilst Senegalese men try to sell you tacky souvenirs!

However, even with that said it was fascinating to peer perilously over the side of the cave to catch a glimpse of the beautiful blue shimmering water. Be aware that if you don’t like heights, it’s not advised as there’s nothing to hang on to, I was really worried I’d trip and fall in.

One of the beautiful beaches in Sal

Walk along the beach in Santa Maria

To be honest, I didn’t really believe the reviews of a perfect sandy beach in a place like Cape Verde but I certainly found it. If you venture out along Santa Maria Beach near the new Hilton Hotel you’ll get to enjoy the truly magical golden sand between your toes.

If you also fancy something a bit more adventurous, which sadly I didn’t fancy, you can try kite and wind surfing.

Further Information?

Fancy climbing an active volcano in Cape Verde? Hike Pico de Fogo, find out how here!

If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.

All images copyrighted, if you wish to use any images produced in this blog article please contact me.

Zakouma National Park, Chad – Africa’s Northernmost Safari

For those seeking an adventure to one of the worlds most remote and unvisited countries, a unique destination that you aren’t supposed to visit, you need to check out Chad.

Where I hear you say?! Isn’t that just the name of an American actor, or soccer player? No, it’s a country in Africa that just happens to be one of the least-visited places in the world, this could be to do with it being surrounded by some of the most dangerous places including Libya, Nigeria and Central African Republic! Chad has never featured highly on many travellers must-see lists, but this is a shame as the country has been striving forward to drive out terrorism whilst attempting to modernise and encourage tourism.

N’Djamena wasn’t really worth visiting, it was difficult to walk around and take photos.
Bribes, bribes, bribes!

Chadian Facts

  • 21st biggest country in the world (496,000 square miles) and the largest landlocked in Africa
  • Chad ranks 186th of 188 countries in the Human Development Index highlighting how poor and corrupt the country is
  • In 2016, there was a grand total of only 75 flight arrivals in the whole year to N’Djamena – the only International airport in the country
  • In 2015, there were officially only 120,000 International arrivals, although most of these will have arrived only on business and because of this the tourist infrastructure in Chad is very much in its infancy
  • Lake Chad is Africa’s second largest wetland (although it is off-limits due to the security issues in the area)

Zakouma offered a wonderful array of animals, something I had not expected!

Zakouma National Park

After spending only one night in the capital city, N’Djamena, I sadly don’t recommend staying any longer as quite frankly there’s nothing there, and the promoted tourist sites just aren’t worth visiting. Thankfully though, Chad has more to see than its capital. Situated just south of the Sahara Desert but above the fertile rainforest regions, Zakouma National Park is promoting itself as a safe haven for Central and West African wildlife.

Why did I visit? Well, I’ve always wanted to do a safari and I thought by choosing the most unique was probably a good way to start my first one. Apprehensive doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt before arriving, after a gruelling 12 hour drive from N’Djamena, it was exhausting, dusty and dirty but when you arrive you’re welcomed by a surprisingly modern, yet traditional lodge with beautiful African decorations – just what the Dr ordered, oh and a Chadian beer!

Tinga Lodge, Zakouma National Park

You will be welcomed with open arms by the staff, from the incredibly knowledgable safari guide to the chef who will cook your breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don’t expect 5* or what you’d typically receive on a Tanzanian/Kenyan safari but they make the best of what they have available, including producing many of their own vegetables on site in their own allotment (albeit gated to stop the animals eating the produce).

I absolutely love animals, just sitting back and watching them in their natural environment was incredible. If poachers would have had their way, elephants would have been wiped out by now in Chad. Thankfully for us, they are thriving and numbers are growing. This is one of Africa’s biggest conservation success stories and when I visited I was truly amazed by how many animals I actually saw and came close to.

Listening to other travellers, who were far better travelled than me (shocking I know!), they explained that it was different to other safari trips they had done. This included being far closer to the animals than in other destinations they’d travelled to.

For me personally, I will never ever forget watching a lion resting in the shade and avoiding the scorching sun, this might sound typical on a safari but when our driver started to reverse our jeep to turn it around and ended up heading, terrifyingly, towards the lion and being on the back seat I was thinking where do I escape?! Thankfully, the lion tentatively wandered off but not until I had stared deeply into its eyes and thinking will I be next, a memory that will stay with me forever.

Look into my eyes…
This was one of the most incredible experiences, watching this wild lion in its natural territory.

This was not the only lion encounter I had on my safari in Zakouma, I was incredibly lucky to witness a lioness with three cubs making the most of the early morning “cool” temperature getting a drink and lapping up the murky water. We sat there for an incredible thirty minutes, at first they were understandably nervous and weren’t sure whether to move but thankfully they hesitantly continued and we were able to watch the family as the intense African sun arose for another day of 45 degrees heat.

Lions, lions EVERYWHERE!

One of my favourite animals is the incredible elephant, I’ve had many encounters with these beautiful creatures throughout my journeys around the world but discovering that a wild one was wandering around outside your lodge brought home a mix of emotions; fear that it might charge, but excitement that I can finally see one up close without hordes of tourists trying to capture the best photo.

It’s just you and nature, at one in Zakouma.

After seeing far more wildlife than first anticipated, I highly recommend checking out this National Park in a remote part of Africa, make sure you purchase some of their merchandise as they need every little help that it can receive.

Make a mental note – never get in front of a horny elephant!!!

How to visit Chad?

A visit to Chad is not for the fainthearted, extreme doesn’t even begin to describe it but the unique experiences will outweigh any initial fears. Randomly, it’s quite expensive to visit including getting there and also during, this is highly likely to be because many things have to be imported but also due to the lack of tourists. Predominately the only people who visit are there on business, therefore this has increased the price of hotels and tour agencies.

Before I got my Chadian Visa I’d read that it was deemed one of the world’s most difficult to obtain visas, I actually found the process all rather easy. Sadly there’s no embassy/consulate in the U.K and therefore your only option is to hop on a train/plane to Paris or Brussels. The visa price is currently €70 and you must have confirmation of your yellow fever vaccination and an invitation letter from the agency you’re travelling with.

Although Chad will never be one of the top visited countries in the world, this adds to its charm.

Check out this unique destination, I travelled with a UK-based company who offer regular tours of Chad. Book your trip with Lupine Travel today and explore more of Africa.

Goodnight Africa, you are truly spectacular.

Further Information?

If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.

All images copyrighted, if you wish to use any images produced in this blog article please contact me.

A Five-Day Visa-Free Trip To Belarus

Now that Belarus has loosened the red-tape a little, you can now get a five-day visa on arrival if you are from a list of 80 eligible countries. When this was announced I was rather excited that I could finally tick off another place that has unfortunately been sitting around waiting for me to visit, I just didn’t wish to go through the hoops that were previously in place. However, finally they have now seen sense and you can visit for five days, BUT only if you fly in to Minsk, you cannot arrive overland or to/from Russia.

One thing I was surprised, or maybe just stupid, was to learn was that there is officially no border control between Belarus and Russia as officially it is still part of the Russian Federation, as you’ll notice when you receive you immigration card.

When I said I was going to be visiting Belarus most people looked at me incredibly confused as to why I would want to come, and IN WINTER!? I mean, nobody really could possibly enjoy being in a cold climate in the snow, no? Sadly for me, Minsk and Belarus was experiencing warmer than usual weather and so sadly for me I didn’t get any snow and the temperature didn’t fall below zero, yet it snowed back in London. Typical!

I’m pretty certain that most Belarusians only survive on coffee, vodka and cigarettes – My experience of them is that they are definitely friendlier than Russians, they are intrigued by foreigners, although some may look at you with suspicion – which is a relic of the Soviet days. Anyone who has moved abroad and then returned to Belarus will understand you much easier and will be determined to make sure you have a good time whilst visiting. Whilst taking an Uber one day in Minsk, a professional hockey player who was back home for a short time whilst sorting a visa out for the U.S was driving the car, he invited me to a game. How amazing and friendly is that? Sadly I wasn’t able to accept the offer due to travelling to Brest that day, but I would have jumped at the chance to see this national sport being played.

Welcome to Belarus!
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

Belarusian Visa

As of 1st January 2017, the Belarusian government finally approved a visa on arrival for a maximum of five-days for citizens of 80 countries/states. To be eligible for this you must have medical insurance before you arrive, or you will be charged at immigration. As of 1st January 2018, the visa on arrival scheme has been extended to ten days but only if you visit certain regions – very clever Government!

It certainly wasn’t the worst welcome I’ve ever had at an airport, I even received a smile from the immigration lady, always nice to step into a country and be made to feel at home!

My adventures in Belarus

I’m sure most of you have heard of Belarus, but what on earth is there to see? It doesn’t really have any world-famous sites, however it does surprisingly have one or two (four to be exact) UNESCO World Heritage sites to check out. The one that I really wanted to see was Mir Castle, sadly for me I don’t drive and it was going to be quite costly and time-consuming to get to from Minsk so I had to abandon this idea but here’s a lovely photo of it I found online for our visual pleasures.

Mir Castle
Photo Source: Wikipedia

So, onto what I did actually get round to seeing… Well I spent four days in the capital Minsk and then travelled towards the Polish border to visit the wonderful city of Brest after a four-hour train journey.

Minsk 

Everything that I had read online about Minsk before I arrived was sadly pretty much negative, this is a huge shame as what I found was a city starting to attract foreign investment, tourists and most importantly jobs. As 80% of the city was destroyed during World War 2, sadly it was redesigned to Stalin’s requirements and as such it does suffer from Communist-block heaven. Thankfully though, this is now starting to change with major hotel chains including DoubleTree and Hilton opening hotels within the last five years.

Every city needs a subway, right? Well, thankfully Minsk has its own Metro system that was completed in the 70s and is rapidly starting to expand thanks to its 800,000 people who use it daily. Believe me, all ex-Soviet Union countries I’ve been to who have rapid-transport systems are typically overcrowded, and Minsk was no exception. However, at 0.60BYN (£0.22) per journey who can blame the locals for using it to the max.

Due to a bombing that took place several years ago no photography is allowed, I didn’t see any security but decided to respect this decision and not to offend the locals.

Minsk Metro
Photo Source: Wikipedia

Speaking of the Metro, if you take line 1 heading east towards Uručča (Уручча in Russian) and get off at the third last stop called Uschod (Усход) you’ll be able to visit the National Library of the Republic of Belarus. Modernised in 2006, this building can seat about 2,000 readers and its main architectural component has the shape of a rhombicuboctahedron – a what? Like we all know what one of those is, well after Googling it I can confirm that it is in fact an Archimedean solid with eight triangular and eighteen square faces. So there we go kids, you learn something new every day on Travel Geek!

State Library in Minsk
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

Whilst walking around the centre of Minsk you’ll notice a rather large police presence, I don’t know if that’s to make you feel safe, uncomfortable, watched or all three but I went through all of these emotions. I believe it’s also because it is a police state and you can easily walk past the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus without realising. Oh, if you don’t know who they are from that name then it might be more relatable when I say the KGB. Yes, that’s right folks the KGB are still well and truly present in Belarus. In theory, you can be arrested for taking photos of this building, so here’s three!

KGB still exist in Belarus!
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

Opposite my hotel I noticed a rather curious island sticking out of the river Svislach, it’s called the Island of Courage and Sorrow but is referred to as the Island of Tears on Google. It features a memorial to the Belarusians who took part in the Soviet War in Afghanistan and is one of the most famous sights in Minsk.

Island of Tears
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

The last place I checked out in Minsk is the Mound of Glory, which was in fact located 21km away from the city centre, so I first had to figure out how to get there. Sadly there’s no local buses that stop anywhere near (even though the airport bus goes straight past) and the Metro doesn’t come out this far, but you can get off at the very last stop of Line 1 called Uručča (Уручча in Russian) and take an Uber from there, it cost me about £4 for a return journey. Be aware though, this monument isn’t around anything except the main road and you might find it difficult to get an Uber to come back to Minsk.

When I arrived, I noticed the welcome sign (thankfully in English) which told me I had to pay an entry fee, I walked towards the registration office to check with a man there (who initially thought I was asking for the toilet) only to be shooed away and told that I didn’t need to bother?! Sweet, so thankfully I had the place to myself, for free.

This Second World War memorial complex, commemorates fallen Soviet soldiers and is still used for military parades. The actual mound of earth was created in 1969, with scorched soil from the USSR’s ‘Hero Cities’ and battlegrounds. On its summit, four towering titanium bayonets pierce the sky. It’s absolutely amazing and standing in the middle of the monument looking out over the landscape helps remind me of how fought over this land has been.

Mound of Glory
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

Brest

350km west of Minsk you’ll find the border city of Brest, proudly sitting opposite the Polish city of Terespol. It’s easy to get to from Minsk, there’s a regular train service throughout the day and night. One of the major sites to see is Brest Fortress, it’s a contender to become an UNESCO World Heritage site and this place is absolutely massive! If you are interested in Soviet history then you could easily spend hours exploring all of the buildings. At first I wasn’t sure whether I needed to pay an entrance fee as you can easily just walk in/around the site, but I found an office and paid my 2BYN fee. From my understanding this place was the site of many battles during World War 2 when the Germans attacked without warning and sadly as expected it was a bloodbath. According to information I read on-site, both Hitler and Mussolini visited the fortress at various times. Believe me this place is well worth the trip from Minsk just to see here.

Brest Fortress
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

I’ll admit it, I’m not only a travel geek, I’m also a bit of a train geek! When I was a kid all I wanted to be was a train driver; blame Thomas the Tank Engine. So, when I found out that Brest had the first outdoor Railway Museum in Belarus, I was right there! This place is Soviet train heaven, there’s currently 56 locomotives/units and it has even been featured in several films.

It thankfully only costs 2.50BYN to get in and although most trains aren’t open thankfully I made friends with an engineer who was on site and was more than happy to take photos and encourage me to go into some of the locos.

Brest Railway Museum
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

Traveling in Belarus

With some countries it is almost impossible to get around if you don’t drive, thankfully this isn’t the case in Belarus as you have a fantastic and cheap train service, although some tourist sites will require a drive/bus ride. I was sad to realise that there weren’t any domestic flights, this would have made my trip much easier and have enabled me to see more places but I’m sure this will happen in time.

Belavia Belarusian Airlines

OK, I’ll be up-front and honest, I was expecting something absolutely horrendous. What I was greeted with was a recent addition to their fleet with new livery, a decent meal that was included in the price and even free check-in and carry on luggage. What more could I ask for? Well, I was disappointed not to be greeted with a welcome vodka or be offered any alcoholic drinks throughout the flight, however that is just down to me being a bit pickled most of the time.

Passenger numbers on Belavia from 2016 to 2017 have risen more than 20%, this is a significant increase and I’m certain that it has something to do with the relaxing of the visa entrance requirements, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what the Government wanted/did. I read in their onboard magazine that Belavia has started its transition period from old to new branding, this includes an overhaul of the logo, colours, introduction of web/mobile check in and even the planes themselves. Out with old Tupolev’s and in with the new Embraer and Boeing jets, this is exciting times for a company that only started thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Their plans are admirable and I sincerely hope they succeed.

One thing I was sad to see, like with many other police states there was simply no competition to Belavia – the national airline and flag carrier for Belarus, more than likely because it is a state-owned company and that wouldn’t be welcomed. I know that Minsk International Airport hopes to attract some new airlines, it will be interesting to see how they stand up against the competition.

Belavia Belarusian Airlines
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

Belarusian Railway

Similar to Ukrainian Railways, I was able to easily book tickets with Belarusian Railways via their web-site, selecting seats and print off my boarding pass with ease. At the time I thought to myself this is too easy to be true, anyway there was nothing more I needed to do but turn up.

I travelled on two trains whilst travelling in Belarus, both were unbelievably on-time and although they mostly smelled of cigarettes, body odour and fart, I suppose that’s the pleasure of paying just £3 for a ticket! Thankfully on more pleasant subjects, all staff that I came into contact with were really helpful, they went out of their way to ensure I got to where I needed to be – even if they didn’t speak English, they would find someone or even call someone to provide the information that I needed. Amazing!

Uber in Minsk

Typically when I arrive in a new country I already know how to get to/from the airport to the city, usually I’ll haggle with a local taxi company or hop on a train/bus to a central point. However, in Belarus Uber is so cheap that I couldn’t resist, and I’m glad I used it, so I’m not going to apologise for adding to their ever-growing list of successful capital cities using their service.

Brest Railway Museum
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

Unsure whether to visit? Yeah I know that feeling, I wasn’t sure what to expect before I arrived. After reading various blogs, horror stories and reports it was difficult to picture myself there, however as soon as I arrived I’m 100% glad that I made the visit here.

Yes it is still corrupt.

Yes, officially it is still part of the Russian Federation.

Yes it can look grey and miserable (but so can the U.K)

Belarusians have proven to me throughout my trip that they are opening up to tourism, they are definitely more welcoming and friendlier than any Russians I met when I travelled there. However, every individual experience is different but I hope that now the visa restrictions are easing, tourists will become a common sight and it will help to progress this country in ways beyond their wildest dreams. Before you leave, make sure you stock up on the booze, as vodka is C-H-E-A-P here!!

Further Information?

If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.

All images copyrighted, if you wish to use any images produced in this blog article please contact me.

10 Undiscovered Countries To Visit In 2018

With 2017 now a distant memory, it’s time to start thinking about which exciting part of the world to venture to next. For me, this usually involves throwing a dart at the board to see where I might end up, but in 2018 I already have some must-see places that I’d like to visit.

I’ve compiled a list of undiscovered countries that I believe will be big in 2018, so what you waiting for, grab your passport and let’s check them out!

Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

Albania is one of those places that few people would choose to visit on holiday, why you ask? I have no idea! It’s one of the cheapest places to explore in Europe, it’s incredibly cheap, there’s great food, good wine and they even have miles and miles of beaches. Although it has been a fledgling destination for a good number of years I still don’t believe it has reached its peak tourism point yet.

  • Currency – Albanian Lek (ALL) exchange rate; 149LEK to £1
  • When to visit – March to September
  • Top Tip – Don’t just visit Tirana, get out and explore the mountainous Northern region or the beaches of the South
  • Must-see Destination – Theth, if you’re looking for a unique place to visit, it is here.
  • Visa Required for U.K citizens – No visa required

Looking for more information about Albania, check out my travel itinerary, or maybe you fancy something a bit more off-the-beaten track, if so, then you must visit Theth.

Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

After years of saying I wanted to visit, I was finally able to get to Laos in 2017. Although in some areas I found it overrun by tourists, you can thankfully still find peace and quiet – for now. If you wish to see this country before it changes I’d recommend doing it ASAP as China is building a high-speed railway that will cut through most of the country. Luang Prabang is one my favourite places, incredibly laid back, quaint, peaceful and excellent food to try, including kaiphean – a type of Mekong river weed that’s deep-friend (tastes better than it sounds).

  • Currency – Laotian Kip (LAK) exchange rate; 11,150KIP to £1
  • When to visit – November to January
  • Top Tip – Tourism is starting to take off in Laos, try to visit somewhere sustainable and off-the-beaten track, such as the Gibbon Experience in Huay Xai 
  • Must-see Destination – Luang Prabang – it feels like you’ve stepped back in time!
  • Visa Required for U.K citizens – A visa is required and costs $35, you can get it at any airport or points of entry into the country

Image © Government of St. Helena

You can’t really get a more off-the-beaten track place than St. Helena, previously only accessible by the mail ship; once every three weeks this took a mighty five and a half days to arrive. Thankfully you are now able to now fly with Airlink to this British Overseas Territory in the Southern Atlantic Ocean. Will tourism take off? That is the big question, but I’m in no doubt that it will most definitely increase arrival numbers. St. Helena is a bit like a lost paradise – it boasts an unspoiled natural environment including a rainforest and a random desert! Napoleon even died here…

  • Currency – Saint Helenian Pound (SHP) exchange rate; 1SHP to £1
  • When to visit – November to March (hot and sunny)
  • Top Tip – Go birdwatching to spot the only endemic Saint Helena bird species left called the wirebird
  • Must-see Destination – Jamestown to discover its past with Napoleon and the East India Trading Company
  • Visa Required for U.K citizens – Entry permit on arrival when proof of medical insurance is provided

Image © Shutterstock

Taiwan is experiencing a resurgence in popularity, with new high-speed trains making it easy to get around the country and explore the unspoiled nature. Thankfully, unlike several other S.E Asian destinations, Taiwan is still affordable and can be done on a budget, although in theory it isn’t “undiscovered” it’s somewhere that I believe you should check out, I’m going to be heading there in late 2018.

  • Currency – Taiwan New Dollar (TWD) exchange rate; TW$40 to £1
  • When to visit – October to April
  • Top Tip – It is probably best to leave the political discussions including topics around China at the door before entering
  • Must-see Destination – Taroko Gorge 
  • Visa Required for U.K citizens – No visa required

Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

Although Iceland is still one of my favourite places that I’ve visited, travellers and tourists alike are now starting to seek an alternative but similar destination. You can still see the Aurora Borealis, but as the Faroes are much smaller and less crowded there’s less light pollution meaning you’ll have a greater chance of seeing them. When I visited in 2017 I didn’t realise how amazing their under-sea road tunnels were, they are in the process of even building one with a roundabout that will link three road junctions up ready to open in 2020.

  • Currency – Danish Kronur (DKK) exchange rate; 8.4DKK to £1
  • When to visit – Although many places close down for Winter, this destination is good all year-round
  • Top Tip – Fly with the national airline; Atlantic Airways for that unique Faroese experience or hire a car and make sure you drive through one of their many under-sea tunnels
  • Must-see Destination – Gasadalur or Vidareidi
  • Visa Required for U.K citizens – No visa required

Click here to find out more about my trip to the Faroe Islands after visiting in 2017.

Image © Shutterstock

Oman is one of the safest and friendliest destinations in the whole of the Middle East, although this isn’t difficult it definitely helps it to stand out against the rest. As one of only a handful of currencies that are stronger than the Great British Pound and United States Dollar, Oman isn’t cheap, nor is it undiscovered but I’ve included it in my list as it’s often underrated and for a small country there’s a hell of a lot to see and do.

  • Currency – Omani Rial (OMR) exchange rate; 0.5OMR to £1
  • When to visit – October to March (Winter, but still 30 degrees) 
  • Top Tip – If you plan on visiting for only a couple of days, extend it a bit longer and stay for a week, believe me you’ll want to see everything
  • Must-see Destination – Wahiba Sands 
  • Visa Required for U.K citizens – No visa required

Image © Shutterstock

Although this country also featured on my list in 2016, I’ve still sadly not made it to this beautiful country. However, my desire is growing stronger and stronger every year, especially now that the Ebola epidemic is thankfully over. Why would you visit? Well, there’s a substantial wildlife sanctuary, an abundance of fabulous sandy beaches and you can even learn about the country’s former slave trade past on Bunce Island.

  • Currency – Sierra Leonean Leone (SLL) exchange rate; 10,300SLL to £1
  • When to visit – September to December
  • Top Tip – Expect electricity to not be available 24/7, therefore bring fully-charged cameras/phones etc
  • Must-see Destination – Banana Islands
  • Visa Required for U.K citizens – Visa required – currently £109, view more information about countries requiring visas here

Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

With a successful visa-free year under their belt, Belarus must have discovered the benefits of loosening the red-tape as their five-day visa on arrival has now been extended to ten days when you visit certain destinations. Nestled on the far Eastern European border, this country often gets referred as the “last dictatorship”, having just visited I can safely say that it’s still very Soviet but this adds to its charm. Where else can you buy a bottle of vodka for £1?!

  • Currency – Belarusian Ruble (BYN) exchange rate; 2.7BYN to £1
  • When to visit – May to September, although wintertime is when it’s most beautiful 
  • Top Tip – Ensure you have medical insurance before you arrive, they will request to see it on arrival and if you don’t have any you’ll be asked to purchase a rather expensive one for the duration of your stay
  • Must-see Destination – Although Minsk is the capital, I really liked Brest; a forward-thinking city on the border with Poland
  • Visa Required for U.K citizens – Not required for stays of 5 days (soon to be 10)

Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

Although neighbouring Morocco sees more than 10 million tourists per year, Algeria barely sees a small fraction of this. Sadly it’s likely due to the visa requirements, but don’t let that put you off as once you are there Africa’s biggest country is absolutely amazing. With the Mediterranean north and the Saharan south, you will have an incredible adventure wherever you explore.

  • Currency – Algerian Dinar (DZD) exchange rate; 155 Dinar to £1
  • When to visit – The biggest country in Africa experiences vastly varying temperatures, I visited in August (the hottest time) and surprisingly it wasn’t too bad
  • Top Tip – If you are travelling beyond Algiers, especially south, take a guide or a translator if you cannot speak French or Arabic as the police will be very suspicious of why you are there and what you are looking for (it happened to me) 
  • Must-see Destination – Timimoun; very similar to Timbuktu with its water towers
  • Visa Required for U.K citizens – Yes, unfortunately this will likely be the most complicated part of visiting Algeria but thankfully you can read how to apply here.

Unsure how to obtain an Algerian visa, read more here or discover my suggested travel itinerary throughout this Saharan giant.

Image © Shutterstock

A surprising addition, mostly off-the-beaten track except for a few hardy travellers but a growing number are quickly discovering why this country is now a must-see. Although images of poverty, floods and deprivation are typically the only depiction you’ll see of Bangladesh, I’ve been wanting to visit for a number of years and I’m hoping 2018 will be the one!

  • Currency – Bangladeshi Taka (BDT) exchange rate; 111BDT to £1
  • When to visit – October to February (Coldest months)
  • Top Tip – Make sure you get all of your vaccinations before you go
  • Must-see Destination – Cox’s Bazar – the worlds longest beach 
  • Visa Required for U.K citizens – Visa is required and costs £78, can be bought upfront or on arrival for the purpose of tourism

Further Information

If you’d like to read my recommendations for 20172016 and 2015 click on the year to discover unique adventures.

If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from any of my trips please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.