Travel to the Faroe Islands – Travel Geek UK

With adventure tourism booming in the land of fire and ice in Iceland and cruise passenger numbers increasing for Norway, I wonder when it be the Faroe Islands turn to encounter a burst in tourist figures? Thankfully 2017 might just be the one as they have experienced a 20.5% increase in passenger arrivals at the islands only airport, so I think it’s time for me to check out what all the fuss is about!

The Faroe Islands are located just north of Scotland and although similar in scenery the weather can often be quite different due to being in the milder waters of the Gulf Stream. With 18 beautiful islands, some only accessible by ferry, it is no wonder that people are starting to realise that Iceland isn’t the only northern country that they need to explore. Just what is there to discover here? Well, before I visited I knew very little about the place including what to see and where to go. Thankfully after trawling the internet, checking out some blogs and Instagram photos I built up an image in my mind of how I was going to explore this wild and unspoiled landscape. The reason for the trip? Well, it was my partners birthday and he had always wanted to visit somewhere in Scandinavia, obviously the Faroe’s aren’t officially classed as this but it was still heading north! After considering several options, I opted for the Faroe Islands simply because I hadn’t been but also because I knew that tourism is starting to pick up here and I was intrigued to go and see it for myself.

Happy Birthday Oliver!

I often get very fed up of living in the U.K, things can be quite stressful, busy and even chaotic depending on which part you live in, so for me travel and experiencing a different way of life is like my religion; it helps me learn, it helps me to grow as a person and best of all I now have someone to spoil and experience these life-changing moments with.

Have you ever imagined getting away from everything, yet still feeling connected? With just a one hour flight from Edinburgh, I opted to fly with the national airline of the Faroe Islands; Atlantic Airways, who thankfully turned out to be really great. Upon arrival you’ll likely be one of only a handful of flights to land that day at the very small but perfectly formed Vágar Airport. Stepping off the plane and breathing in the crisp, clean air is like, well a breath of fresh air. My experience of going through passport control was a breeze and I even got a nice “Welcome to the Faroe Islands”, this is always a good sign in my opinion of how friendly a country will be.

Gasadalur – a must-see place for any visit to the Faroe Islands

Admittedly the Faroe’s aren’t that easy to get around if you don’t drive, there is public transport buses but if you are looking for some freedom then I’d recommend hiring a car. Once again after a very quick check in process, before I knew it we had our hands on Renault beast that was to prove invaluable throughout our four day adventure. After my partner, Oliver, drove out of the airport on the wrong side of the road we thankfully got to grips with our new home and after only a short 15 minute drive we arrived in the perfect place for a bit of P&Q – Gasadalur. Most people will only briefly visit here to see the incredible natural beauty of Mulafossur Waterfall, but they are missing out on the unique opportunity to experience what it’s like to stay in a village with a population of only 18 people.

I often find city life can be incredibly stressful and as I describe it, an assault on every sense so places like this as perfect for me to escape. In Gasadalur there’s only one place to stay; a beautiful boutique guesthouse that has recently been built but includes a Scandinavian design (thanks Ikea) with cute and quirky Faroese touches including a woollen tea cosy and a wooden penguin. Next door is the village’s only cafe that serves traditional Faroese food including rye bread, prawns and smoked salmon. Thankfully we were just in time for dinner, but before that we met an absolutely adorable puppy who was only two months old, I seriously wanted to adopt the little mischief!

I *heart* dogs, when can I adopt him?!

Unfortunately for me and Oli, during our first night a weather system had developed and it was incredibly windy, to the point that we honestly thought our house was going to blow away, so much so that when a gust of wind occurred the whole place shook! Was pretty scary, it also meant that I woke up at 4.30am but got to experience true Faroese weather at its worst. Thankfully for me the next day it had fully cleared and the sun shined a balmy 12 degrees.

It was time to leave our wonderful turfed roof home and make our way towards the capital, Tórshavn, but not before I put my walking boots on and discover the other natural beauty of Vágar Island – Sørvágsvatn Lake. It is the Faroe Islands largest lake and sits approximately 40m above sea level, it features the stunning Bøsdalafossur waterfall where you see the sheer power of Mother Nature when the mighty waterfall plunges deep into the North Atlantic Ocean.

Sørvágsvatn Lake – the Faroe Islands largest lake

After a short 35 minute ride and my first ever sub-sea car journey, I arrived on the island of Streymoy and the capital of the Faroe Islands; Tórshavn (Thors Harbour). As one of the smallest capital cities in the world, it has only 20,000 inhabitants and boy do you notice it! It has a very laid-back, quiet yet quirky feel where you might get the opportunity to run in to the Prime Minister in the historic old part of the city, Tinganes; that basically translates as “parliament point”. With beautiful grass roofs and brightly painted wooden buildings it gives you the sense that you’ve stepped back in time.

Torshavn – the capital of the Faroe Islands

Although there isn’t a huge amount to see or do in Tórshavn, I definitely recommend spending at least one night here. I stayed at Hotel Føroyar – the only 4* place in the whole country, although for me personally it felt a little dated and I preferred other places that I stayed at throughout my trip. It is particularly famous for the time that U.S President Bill Clinton popped by in 2007 and stayed on his visit, although a myriad of other celebrities and famous people have also stayed here. Be sure to check out the rather normal Presidential Suite!

As it was Oli’s birthday I thought I’d treat him to a special meal, I had to book well in advance but I was able to get us into the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the Faroe Islands, the rather amusingly named Koks. Previously this was located in Hotel Føroyar but has since relocated to its own premises only a short 15 minute drive away. Unfortunately for me he wasn’t feeling 100% and after sampling only a handful of taster menu dishes he opted to sadly sit this one out, I think that might have been a wise move though as some of the dishes didn’t really float my boat. Have you ever fancied raw sea urchin, whale blubber or barely cooked clam? Hmm no, sadly not for me but worth trying local Faroese cuisine.

Koks – The only Michelin-starred restaurant on the Faroe Islands

The morning after and thankfully slowly recovering from my non-appetising food experience, we set off for a wander around Tórshavn. Although petite, it was really nice to simply wander although that might have had something to do with the beautiful and rather unexpected September sunshine I experienced when I visited.

Only whaling station left in the Northern Hemisphere at Við Áir

So, I’m going to approach the subject of whaling with extreme caution but sadly this is what the Faroe Islands are most unfortunately known for. Although I am completely against the practise I do believe that the world is beyond cruel to most animals, not just whales and therefore I was intrigued to visit the the only whaling station left in the Northern Hemisphere at Við Áir. Thankfully it has been defunct since 1985, except for a stranded Sperm whale that spectacularly exploded in 2013 when the rotting carcass was cut into and subsequently the clip went viral. There were plans to create an open-air museum here but when I checked this place out in September 2017 everywhere was empty/abandoned.

The beauty of a driving holiday here is that you can easily pull over and stop to admire the stunning panoramic views whilst getting to explore places that are a bit more off-the-beaten track. After leaving the capital we headed north towards our last overnight stop of Gjógv but before we arrived I made a detour to the remote village of Saksun. Be sure to time your arrival properly, unlike me who arrived sadly during high tide which will affect you seeing the most famous view of black sand, yes that’s right BLACK sand! According to Wikipedia, this place used to be an inlet of the sea which formed a natural deepwater harbour but sadly after a fierce storm this became subsequently unaccessible due to being filled by sand. It’s a fascinating place to visit, surrounded by high mountains on every side it makes for an exciting walk.

Saksun and its magical and mysterious black sands

When planning this trip I really struggled to find good accommodation, mostly due to the remoteness and also lack of investment there are very few hotels so I often had to opt for what I could find, this was definitely the case in Gjógv. There’s only one guesthouse, although if I’d used Air BnB I could have stayed in some beautiful old houses. Ah well, next time. Thankfully for us it was everything we needed to explore this part of Eysturoy island. Gjógv in Faroese means gorge, which is what the village is most famous for. It forms a natural harbour where, if you are lucky enough you’ll see vessels being pulled up the rather steep ramp to the village. Make sure if you get a clear evening you walk to the end of the path above the harbour to sit and enjoy the breathtaking scenery. If you like walking I’d recommend making Gjógv your starting point for hiking to the highest mountain in the whole of the Faroe Islands; Slættaratindur, standing at a huge 880m this was definitely not on my itinerary list but driving past this beast was an incredible sight to see.

Exploring Gjogv

Sadly it was almost time to leave the beautiful and unspoiled Faroe Islands but before we ventured back home, there is something I had to do – drive through a sub-sea tunnel! It’s one of the most unique features of this country and we took on the biggest one there is; Norðoyatunnilin. At 6.3km long and 150 metres beneath sea-level this is one of the must-do things to test out whilst you’re here, don’t worry about passing places here though as it is the newest tunnel completed in 2015. One of the most unique features about this place is that at the deepest point it turns into a rainbow tunnel for a short distance! I noticed that this won’t be the newest tunnel for long as they are currently building the Eysturoyartunnilin between the capital and two islands. This will be the world’s longest sub-sea tunnel and will even include a roundabout – how cool is that! I’m definitely heading back to check that out when it opens in 2020.

Driving in the Faroe Islands is pretty normal until you reach a sub-sea tunnel!

After passing through the island of Borðoy and into Viðoy we arrived at Viðareiði; the most northern settlement in the country and basically the end of the road. There isn’t a huge amount to do here but the scenery more than makes up for that and especially knowing that the only thing north of you is the Norwegian volcanic island of Jan Mayen before the mighty Arctic.

Travelling to the Faroe Islands can be difficult at certain times of the year, I was here in September 2017, this is right at the end of the typical tourist season (May-September) when things are starting to shut down or have reduced hours but due to its location in the Gulf Stream this place doesn’t get quite as cold as you might think. There are opportunities to see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) here due to the lack of people and light pollution I’d highly recommend this place as an alternative to Iceland.

Costs

Although expensive, the Faroe Islands aren’t quite as extreme as Norway or Iceland due to the Faroese Krona being pegged to the Danish currency which is often typically lower than other Scandinavian countries. This isn’t to say that bargains can’t be found, especially when it comes to accommodation. If you shop around and use websites like AirBnB and Booking.com you’ll find reasonable places to stay. If you use the links above you’ll also get a discount of £25 and £15 respectively when you sign up or stay at your first hotel/property.

Here’s a quick guide to roughly what things cost me;

  • Fish and Chips – £10 (approximately 79DKK)
  • Water – FREE (The water is amazing here, don’t buy bottled)
  • Beer – £4 (It ranged from 35-60DKK)
  • Michelin-star meal – £200!! (It was 1400 just for the tasting menu)
  • Hotel Føroyar – £105 for one night (the only 4* hotel in the country)

Hiring a car was really easy here, I booked online before arriving and collected at Vágar airport – highly recommended if you are to get the most out of your trip. I’d strongly advise against doing expensive day trips, they cost at least £100 just to do a 6 hour tour and they really aren’t worth it.

How to get there

It’s surprisingly easy, from the UK there’s a direct flight from Edinburgh Airport and at just over an hour it’s easier than flying to London! The Faroese national carrier is Atlantic Airways, who offered us a really unique service of traditional food (to purchase) and a mix of non-alcoholic (free) and purchasable alcoholic drinks on board. Both of my flights arriving and departing were sadly not full but as interest in the Faroe Islands grow I definitely see this as being a popular route.

My flight cost £170 return which is definitely more expensive than a flight to Iceland but that’s simply due to competition, the only other way than a direct flight from Edinburgh would be to go to Copenhagen and then fly with either SAS or Atlantic Airways which will likely end up costing you more.

Atlantic Airways – the national carrier of the Faroe Islands

LGBT Travel to the Faroe Islands

Often when me and my partner travel together as a gay couple we pick and choose our accommodation very carefully, to avoid any aggro once we arrive. Thankfully the Faroe Islands recently outlawed discrimination against the LGBT community and travelling here I felt safe and welcomed. At a recent Pride event more than 5,000 people turned up, that’s more than 10% of the population!

I recently read a BBC News article about Faroese men outnumbering women, however sadly due to religion it’s unlikely that they would be gay – but due to the lack of available ladies they were looking further afield to countries like Thailand and the Philippines for a wife, I mean that’s a long way for romance!

Although there is no gay scene, as such, you’ll definitely find a small community, especially in the capital of Tórshavn. I’d recommend if you are a solo traveller contacting the LGBT Faroe Islands group on Facebook who can definitely tell you the best places to check out and if they know of any activities happening nearby.

The Faroe Islands is open to LGBT visitors, don’t be afraid to check this place out!

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.

Solo Adventure; Travelling to Algeria

With the recent surge in negativity towards tourism in cities like Venice and Barcelona, how about visiting a place that’s pretty much never been on the tourist map, where you’ll be one of only a handful of English-speaking tourists in the entire country. Not only that, but the biggest one in Africa!

Algeria has struggled for many years to diversify and attract tourists, varying factors have resulted in lacklustre results but the Government now appears to be focussed solely on promoting itself as a “must-see destination”. Unlike neighbouring Morocco, Algeria receives only 20% of their tourist figures, so there’s quite a long way to go. Having now visited both countries I think you can guess which is the easiest to get to, travel around and do business in; yes you guessed it – Morocco.

After Sudan broke in two, this country is now the largest in Africa and the 10th biggest in the world so I had my work cut out trying to figure out where to visit on my very short five day trip. Located only a short hop away from Spain, Malta and Italy, yet very few international tourists actually step foot on this side of the Mediterranean. Although the last decade has been marred by terrorism and revolutions, Algeria is now relatively stable but sadly finds itself surrounded by conflicts on all sides. With Libya and Tunisia to the east, Niger and Mali to the south and Mauritania and Morocco to the west the Government certainly have their work cut out to remain stable.

Situated in North Africa, 80% of this country is actually occupied by the largest hot desert in the world; the Sahara. A place that has always fascinated me and was top of my must-see list, thankfully I got to explore the unique desert oasis cities of Timimoun and Ghardaia. Although Algeria is striving to be individual, many aspects of life seem to have continued and not dropped out of fashion since the time when France was the Colonial power. This includes things like eating bread or a baguette with every meal, trying delicate and beautiful cakes similar to a Parisian patisserie or even taking the Metro – which to me felt like a replica of the Paris metro. It’s not surprising though, between 1830 to 1962 this country was under French rule and up to 20% of the population was European.

Beautiful French architecture with an Algerian twist makes Algiers a travellers paradise.

My Travels in Algeria

Firstly let me start by saying this is not an easy country to travel around alone, if you don’t speak French or Arabic you will need a guide or someone to travel with who’s a bit more . Sadly for me, languages were never my strong point at school but the benefit of this is you do get to meet some new friends around the world whilst travelling who are willing to help you out. My friend Mohammed; a Yemeni national who currently lives in Algeria was kind enough to invite me to travel with him, thankfully for me he can speak both of the native languages. Phew!

Before I started researching I didn’t have a clue what to see or where to go, many of the must-see places aren’t that famous and there was also some off-limits places to contend with. After browsing various adventure travel company itineraries I put together a couple of ideas, I really wanted to explore Tamanrasset and the south of the country but this proved tricky and expensive so I set my sights on the centre and the mighty Sahara.

Algiers Airport followed by the delightful food offering by Air Algerie

Upon arriving in to Algiers, the nerves kicked in and I wasn’t sure whether I would even be allowed in with my visa. I flew from London with Air Algerie, as airlines go they weren’t bad but definitely won’t feature on any award-winning airline listings any time soon. Algiers International Airport is currently being redeveloped and is being extended, until this happens don’t expect European standards, I wasn’t very impressed with the welcome from the passport and immigration people. Upon arrival you’ll be greeted by two different lines, one for Algerian passport holders and the other for, well, Other passport holders (as is written on signs). Well this turned into chaos as people starting queuing thinking they were in the right place only to be shouted at to get in to the Algerian passport holder line. Confused? Absolutely, anyway I ended up at the back of the line and it took almost an hour to get through – ridiculous!

Thankfully all along the Algerian Mediterranean coastline there’s several cities that I could have flown into including Oran and Constantine, it just so happened that I picked Algiers – a.k.a The White City. Sadly the Metro doesn’t yet stretch as far as the airport, but I believe this is in development so hopefully it should rectify the rather horrendous taxi ride that you have to take into the city. If a taxi driver notices that you are foreign or can’t speak French/Arabic they will try to overcharge, quoting prices like 2,000 – 3,000 dinar whereas the real price should be more like 900 – 1,500 dinar maximum.

Algiers appears to be going through a renovation period as almost every building in the Casbah area had scaffolding up, I visited just before Eid so many families were out and about buying from the local markets. It is quite an assault on your senses as people will come at you from every angle whilst you’re trying to guide yourself and looking out for your possessions meant it was more of a quick visit to the Casbah area. Hopefully next time I’ll plan it better and then I can discover more of the incredible architecture. Algiers felt like a fairly safe city, it reminded me a lot of Beirut with its eagerness to modernise and adapt to a more European style.

The beautiful Mediterranean coastline which most tourists never get to see from Algiers

After spending a rather sleepless night in Algiers I ventured back to the airport early to catch a domestic flight with Air Algerie to Timimoun. It isn’t a place that’s widely known in the travelling community, but it seriously should be – this place is like stepping back in time. I don’t use those words lightly, but it is one of the most beautiful oasis towns in the Sahara. Remember when you were a child and you were shown some worn out, black and white photos of explorers dying of thirst and looking a little rough, well this place is what I imagine they found.

Similar to Timbuktu, these water wells can be found dotted around the Saharan Oasis town of Timimoun

Sadly for me the first thing that happened when I stepped off the plane was the local gendarmerie wanted to know who I was, why I was there and where I had been previously. After being escorted from the airport to the central police headquarters in the city I waited for two hours before the chief dealt with me. He spoke a little English but mostly communicated via my friend Mohammed, his main questions were, what is my job, why am I here and unfortunately the biggest question – why did you visit several countries. My current passport is full and I need to renew it, this means I have visas from various countries that certain places don’t like, sadly I didn’t realise Algeria would make such a fuss over my Iranian and Russian visas. The police chief could not understand why I would have visited either of these countries as a tourist, but he had no choice but to let us walk free as he had no reason to keep us at the police station.

After our brush with the law, it was time to try and find somewhere to stay for the evening. As this trip was done on a budget I resisted staying in the typical luxury tourist hotel and opted for a traditional local one that was a former caravan site in the centre of the city. I did however decide to visit the other hotel, just for the view…

I could easily have sat here all day looking at this incredible view…

Sadly there isn’t much of a tourist industry here, it is a shame as there’s quite a lot to see and I was taken back by how much this reminded me of other famous places. It is a unique spot to visit and is featured in the song Timbuktu to Timimoun, funnily enough the architecture is almost identical when it comes to the traditional water wells. As you venture towards the edge of the city you are faced with an incredible sight – the Sahara desert! It’s almost like the city gives way for this incredible mass of sand.

As you can imagine, this place is in the middle of the Sahara, so don’t expect any fine dining restaurants but you can expect several local take away places. I went to somewhere that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since 1974, but thankfully they made pizza from scratch and it cost less than £1. BARGAIN!

The true adventurer in me comes out when I venture into the wilderness. This is my Sahara…

Also don’t expect any local transport, Timimoun isn’t visited by many tourists so most people, including me, must hire a taxi. Ensure you look around and try to bargain with them for the best deal, sadly for me I ended up paying $100 and although I visited some great places I don’t think it was the best option, I’d say if I’d arranged it through my hotel then it would have been a better experience.

Sadly my time in Timimoun was short and sweet, it was time to take an 8 hour bus journey across the Sahara to another desert outpost. Ghardaia and the M’Zab Valley is a fascinating UNESCO World Heritage site, founded by the Mozabites it is located on the Sahara’s northern fringe at a strategic point along the Trans-Saharan Highway. To get from Timimoun you’ll need to either drive yourself or take the long bus journey, which I unfortunately endured. Although it was safe enough, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it at night. My bus was completely full with around 40 men, all of whom if only they’d known the truth about me would have probably murdered me there and then, thankfully for me though I don’t wear my gayness on my sleeve (so to speak).

Waiting for public transport you never know who you’ll meet, this lovely man was very interested to hear where I was from. Sadly the dude on the left failed to join the party!?!

Upon arriving in Ghardaia I discovered that only recently there had been a revolution and fierce fighting between the rival Berber Mozabites and Chaamba Arabs tribes. The source of the conflict stemmed from arguments surrounding jobs, land and housing and unfortunately due to the sheer number of police I saw on almost every street corner this situation doesn’t look like it is going to disappear anytime soon. It made me feel pretty uncomfortable, I didn’t see any other tourists and I think if I’d have researched properly before I got here I wouldn’t have visited.

Thankfully though, I did and I saw some fascinating things including many of the historic buildings that are painted in a distinctive white, pink or red colour. A must-see place is the settlement called Beni Isguen, an UNESCO World Heritage site that’s a fortified city originally constructed in the 10th century. It is a very religious place that previously only muslims were allowed to enter, thankfully now tourists can venture but they aren’t allowed to take photos of locals, smoke or wear revealing clothing (including shorts).

It hasn’t rained here for over 4 years, I’ve no idea how the locals cope as it was pushing 40 degrees when I visited. Be sure to hire a guide when you visit, it’s only 300 Dinar (£1.50) for 1-3 people, although unfortunately it’s only in French. One unique and rather fascinating fact about this place is that the women, unlike in other Islamic parts of the world, wear white to symbolise peace and they are only allowed to have one eye uncovered from head to toe. I’ve no idea how they manage to walk around, but they are incredible and a sight to be seen.

Beni Isguen – an UNESCO World Heritage site that’s a fortified city with a strict Muslim only residents rule. Fascinating insight into a place that hasn’t changed for hundreds of years.

Clearly some people who ended up in Ghardaia aren’t from here originally as I saw a lot of begging and homeless people, something that is forbidden in Islam. Located at a crossroads, many people have made it here from other parts of Africa and are heading north to the Mediterranean, it was really sad to see and is just one more problem for this unique Saharan oasis city to tackle.

Sadly it was time for me to leave Algeria, after thankfully flying back from Ghardaia to Algiers it was time to face the dreaded immigration/passport control people once more at the airport. I really thought us Brits were meant to be good at queuing but after seemingly being in the wrong line again and being shouted at again, after more than an hour I finally made it through to departures. I was so happy to discover Algerian wine being sold. I didn’t see it anywhere else, although to be fair I didn’t look very hard but I’ve heard it’s pretty good quality so I’ll let you know once I’ve opened the bottle.

Ghardaia – a bustling oasis town in the middle of the Sahara

There were literally hundreds more places I could have visited that would have all been just as stunning, something that I learned quite quickly is that if you embrace the country, the country will embrace you back. It reminded me a lot of pre-war Syria, as if something is about to kick off and it made me feel a bit uncomfortable at times; although most of the people I met were friendly and welcoming I think I’ll leave it a few years and see whether my feelings on the situation have changed.

Travelling around Algeria

Well, it was certainly an experience to say the least. It isn’t easy due to a high police presence, however they are more there to protect you rather than anything else. This can often been seen as a good, or a bad thing. For me personally I found it quite threatening at first but when you realise they are just looking after your safety and not just being a pain then I felt a bit more comfortable, however I’ll let you make your mind own up.

Air Algerie – the national airline

Air Algérie is the national airline of Algeria and is pretty much your only option if you wish to get around the country quickly. They have regular flights to various far-flung places, I travelled on several internal flights to Timimoun and Ghardaia with them on a rather scary ATR 72-500. Seriously these planes should be scrapped and put in a museum, they are old, they are falling apart but at least they do give you some service on board (unlike British Airways!). Although they aren’t the best, they are also by far from being the worst too, one amusing thing to note is that if your flight isn’t full they may attempt to leave early!

Algerian Visa

Often the most complicated part of visiting a country is applying for the visa, thankfully I’ve put an easy guide together for how to apply if you have a British passport. Click here to check it out. Algeria is one country that seriously needs to loosen the strings on its visa restrictions as it’s definitely affecting the number of people visiting, you must be in possession of a visa before arriving!

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.

Algeria – How To Get A Visa?

Let’s face it, getting a visa can sometimes be a long and drawn out process with some countries taking the biscuit and going to the absolute extreme with their demands. Even though neighbouring Morocco receives more than 10 million visitors, Algeria has yet to welcome even 20% of that figure.

This is a crying shame considering how many incredible places there are to see in this North African beauty. Algeria’s Mediterranean coastline is one of the most undeveloped and beautiful along the African continent whilst inland the striking desert landscapes of the vast Sahara make up more than 80% of Africa’s largest country.

Question is, how do you get a visa? Well, in the case of a British passport holder you must either know someone that lives there or join a tour group (if you can find one). In a country that’s hoping to diversify their economy and open up to visitors, they sure know how to make it hard just to even visit.

If you wish to apply for a tourist visa you will need the following;

  1. Two (02) application forms duly completed, dated and signed by the applicant
  2. Two (02) recent passport size photographs to be affixed on each application form
  3. The original passport valid for at least 6 months + 2 sets of copies of all the pages (even the blank ones)
  4. Original + copy of the accommodation certificate duly certified by the local authorities (town hall) in Algeria (certificat d’hébergement légalisé par l’A.P.C.) including the name of the person inviting you, their relationship to you and the address where you will be staying during your visit to Algeria or, when applicable, a confirmation of a hotel booking or an official invitation with itinerary from a travel agency in Algeria
  5. Letter of employment or evidence of activity
  6. A prepaid self-addressed special delivery envelope for nationals residing in the UK if the application is sent by post
  7. £85.00 – Fees must be paid in GB Pound only, either by cash or postal order (write your name on the back) made payable to the Consulate of Algeria if the application is sent by mail. Do not send cash by post.

Applications can be submitted in person at the Consulate in London or by post. I was relieved this option was available as I was unable to travel to London and wait for the visa to be processed. It is oddly not in the typical location of Kensington, Westminster or Soho as most other Consulate/Embassies and is surprisingly located in North Acton. The address for the Consulate of Algeria is; 5 Portal Way, London, W3 6RT.

Location of the Consulate of Algeria in London

Location of the Consulate of Algeria in London

When I applied for my visa by post in July 2017 I made sure to leave plenty of time as I was aware that any slight mistake and your visa will either be rejected or sent back to be amended. Sadly this was the case for me, I hadn’t sent number 4 on the list above but thankfully they didn’t charge me and I was able to send everything back for a second submission.

My advice – check, double check and even treble check that you have everything and have even completed all sections on the application form correctly, maybe get a friend or partner to do this for you. During busy periods I was made aware that processing can take up to three weeks but thankfully for me I received mine within just one. I think the visa fees are pretty steep for just a tourist visa, it definitely puts a lot of people off but hopefully as the country continues to open up this may be reduced or scrapped altogether.

You might be wondering, just where do people come from who visit Algeria? Well unsurprisingly neighbouring countries rank highly, as does former colonial master, France;

  1. Tunisia (50.4%)
  2. France (12.9%)
  3. Morocco
  4. Spain
  5. China
  6. Turkey
  7. Italy
  8. Germany
  9. Portugal

Overall Algeria holds clear potential as a tourist destination but it certainly faces some infrastructure, political and visa issues amongst others before it can start to build a reputation as a place to visit.

Come back soon and check out exactly where I visited in Algeria during my trip in August 2017!

Please note that this information may change, it was correct at time of writing in August 2017. For the most up to date details you can visit the website for the Algerian Consulate in London.

Further Information?

If you’d like to discover more information about 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.

New Budget Tour To Socotra Island – Visit A Lost World And One of The Most Unique Places In The World

The Lost World. Alien Island. The Pearl of the Indian Ocean.

These are just some of the phrases often used to describe Socotra Island, often seen as a highly prized travel destination to visit in most adventurers eyes. Sadly for the past few years it has virtually been off the map due to the awful civil war in Yemen, although thankfully it has never been part of it and remains stable and secure.

Although we were originally due to use the new direct flights from Abu Dhabi sadly Rotana Jet are only selling tickets to Emirati and Yemeni citizens, therefore we’ve decided to charter a ferry from Oman to Socotra which will have armed guards for added security meaning one of the most remote places in the world will be more accessible but most importantly – safely!

My first ever group tour will be run in partnership with Lupine Travel and we’ve now announced our first tour that will be running to the island, the first is in April 2018. We are almost close to the tour being full, numbers will be restricted due to the limited infrastructure on Socotra.

*Itinerary to be confirmed soon

Itinerary

Day 1: Wednesday 4th April

Upon arrival in Socotra, you will be transferred to the Hadibo eco-lodge to acclimatize and have lunch. After lunch, we will head to Ayhaft Canyon National Park. In the canyon we will visit large fresh water-pools where you can swim and relax. All around can be seen a huge variety of endemic plants such as Dessert Rose, Tamarind trees, Cucumber trees and a wide variety of birds such as Socotra Sparrow, Socotra Sunbird and both Socotri and Somali Starlings.

After swimming, we will drive to Delisha beach which is is packed with pristine white sands full of crabs. We will relax while swimming both in the sea and in a freshwater lagoon. Afterwards we will climb a huge sand dune overseeing the beach. There is also a possibility of watching a beautiful sunset from Delisha.

Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel in Hadibo.

Day 2: Thursday 5th April

After breakfast, we will drive to the island’s north-east coast to explore a snorkeling site in Dihammri. Once in Dihammri, you can swim, snorkel and dive in the Marine Protected Area of Dihammri, home to one of the richest coral reefs on the archipelago. Dihammri is blessed with more than 200 fish species and 4 of the 5 coral species that inhabit to the island. This shallow reef will allow even the most inexperienced snorkeler to enjoy its beauty. The many marine creatures to be seen whilst swimming and snorkeling include; parrotfish, Moray eel, Rays, turtles and much more. Diving and snorkeling gear can be hired from Dihammri Diving Center. In the afternoon, we drive to natural zoon of Homhil which is home to many sorts of endemic plant like Dragon’s Blood Tree, Frankincense Tree and Desert Rose. Once in Homhil, we will walk along a selection of trails, on one of which takes us to a viewpoint where there is a natural swimming pool and a view of villages below on the plain and of the Arabian Sea.

Dinner and overnight camp at Homhil campsite.

Day 3: Friday 6th April

After an early breakfast, we will drive to Terbak village where Hoq Cave is located. We will then hike up for 1.5 hours until we reach the entrance of the cave, before spending an hour inside. Hoq is the largest cave in the island. Over three km deep, the cave holds a wealth of Socotri history full of archaeological findings such as pieces of pottery, paintings and wooden tables with inscription in Aramaic language dating back to 258 AD. The cave offers an overwhelming beauty and variety of crystal decorations, like stalagmites, stalactites and calcite floors. We then drive to Ras Erisel which is located at the eastern end of the island where the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean meet. Afterwards we depart to the Arher area, which is a meeting point of fresh water from the mountain and salt water from the sea. Arher is also home to another magnificent sand dune. If you are feeling especially fit, you can climb the dunes for a view that is really worth the effort.

Dinner and overnight camp at Arher campsite.

Day 4: Saturday 7th April

Today we drive to the southern coast of the Island, through the unique Defarhu Valley. We will see traditional villages, natural water pools at the bottom of the canyon and the unusual Desert Rose tree growing on the canyon walls. The vegetation here is lush green and the area is full of birds. After lunch, we drive to Hayf and Zahek village to witness the massive sand dunes which have been pushed up against the mountainside by the seasonal winds of Socotra. We then make our way to the very expansive beach of Omak in the Indian Ocean. After swimming, sunbathing and relaxing in the clear water of the Indian Ocean in Omak, we depart to Digub cave, which overlooks a scattering of traditional villages below. There are many stalactites, stalagmites and pools of water in the cave that have seeped through the rock over time.

Dinner and overnight camp at Omak campsite.

Day 5: Sunday 8th April

Today, we make our way to Dixam plateau (700m above sea level) and Shebahon viewpoint. This area is home to many of the Socotri endemic plants such as Dragon’s Blood Tree. The Shebahon viewpoint gives a fabulous vista overlooking Daerhu canyon where we will see breathtaking sceneries and unusual, beautiful rock formations. We then make our way down to the Wadi in the canyon for lunch and swim in the freshwater pools. The afternoon is spent exploring the canyon.

Dinner and overnight camp at Wadi Dirhur campsite.

Day 6: Monday 9th April

Today we explore the Western part of the island. Our first stop will be Qalansiya; a small traditional fishing town. From there we will hop on a boat and head to the remote beach of Shuaab. We are very likely to see Spinner Dolphins and other sea life during the boat ride. Once in Shuaab, we can swim, relax and enjoy the pristine beach as well as have a look at nearby mangroves. After exploring the mangroves in the areas we head back to Qalansiya in time to explore the Detwah lagoon which is a marine protected area renowned for its magical landscape. This area has some of the best views on the island. We end our day by making the long drive back to Hadibo.

Dinner and overnight camp at Detwah Lagoon Protected area. ‎

Day 7: Tuesday 10th April

A free day relaxing around the Detwah Lagoon area.

Day 8: Wednesday 11th April

After an early breakfast we transfer back to the port ready for our ferry back to Oman.

Trip Information

The cost of the tour is £795 per person.

The price includes:

  • Visa support documents
  • All ground transport in 4x4s
  • Accommodation and camping equipment
  • Tours, entry fees, permits and English speaking guides
  • Breakfast, lunch and dinner each day
  • Bottled water and soft drinks
  • Lupine tour leader

The price does not include:

  • Visa fee
  • Ferry fee (currently £350 return)
  • International Flights
  • Tips

BOOK NOW

Further Information?

If you’d like to have a chat about the tour or if you have any questions, concerns or suggestions please feel free to ask me by emailing me here.

You can also visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.

All images used have been sourced from Google and quoted to highlight ownership.

A Day Trip From Vilnius to Kryžių Kalnas (Hill of Crosses)

One of Lithuania’s most famous and fascinating places to discover is in fact a site of pilgrimage. When I visited, as I approached the hill in a very eerie twist of events a burst of icy snow blasted my face before I was able to be awe-inspired and impressed by the sheer scale of crosses and monuments of Kryžių Kalnas.

I’m not a religious person in any way, but I can appreciate how this place is somewhere that people can receive comfort and even a sense of pride. This site has existed in various forms from approximately 1831 and was formed after the failed rebellion of the Russian Empire, as many people died relatives were unable to locate their bodies and instead started to put up crosses here in commemoration.

It has been destroyed several times during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, this was because they didn’t like that people were trying to showcase their heritage, religion and original Lithuanian identity.

Well that’s enough of a history lesson, how did I actually get there?

Here’s my exact itinerary from April 2017*

09:50 – Train from Vilnius

I must admit I was very impressed by the Lithuanian train system, it was fairly modern, clean and pretty efficient. After leaving a very snowy Vilnius I was pleased to see that this train appeared to be almost brand new and had free wi-fi!

Although scheduled to arrive at 12:01 we sadly crept in around 15 minutes late meaning I missed the earlier bus to Domantai, it was fine though because even on Easter Sunday the Rimi supermarket at the bus station was open for snacks.

13:10 – Bus from Siauliai Bus Station to Domantai

The bus station is an easy 10 minute walk from the train station, you don’t need to buy tickets beforehand but you can pick up a timetable from the one of the ladies in the ticket booths. When you arrive you’ll need to wait at platform 12, the bus driver we had was friendly and understood where we wanted to go. For the cheap price of €0.84 you can get to Domantai – the nearest bus stop to the Hill of Crosses.

Once you get off the bus you’ll need to start walking along a road called the 4033 for 2km and very soon see the magnificent and legendary Hill of Crosses in the distance.

Hill of Crosses, Lithuania

15:02 – Bus from Domantai 

Although it might not sound very long to spend here you can catch the bus 2 hours later, there’s a bus stop on the opposite side to where you disembarked that’s clearly visible, once you get back to Siauliai you’ll have some free time to go and explore Lithuania’s fourth largest city. There’s a few cool sites to see including some funky street art…

Siualiai

17:25 – Train from Siauliai to Vilnius 

Sadly for me I didn’t realise I wouldn’t have the same brand spanking new train coming back, unfortunately it was a rickety old pile which was cramped and jam-packed with people heading home after the Easter holidays. There was another train soon after ours that left at 17:57 but I’m not sure if this uses the newer train, my advice would be to try that instead and stay a bit longer.

Oh…how the mighty have fallen :o(

How to Visit?

If you are travelling by train you can easily buy your train tickets on the day from Vilnius station, however during peak and holiday seasons these trains will get extremely busy. I was travelling to Trakai the day before and thankfully I booked all of my tickets together, most people speak some English in Lithuania but it’s always fun to make a fool of yourself by trying to local lingo.

The Lithuanian Railway website sadly doesn’t accept credit cards yet; however they do take some cards from several Baltic states and Scandinavian countries. A return second class ticket to Siauliai should cost just over €21, which given that it’s almost 200km I think it’s a bargain!

Driving here will likely take around three hours from the capital, there’s a brand new visitor centre and car park located opposite the site, although most people prefer to just park on the side of the road and avoid being charged. There’s no entry fee on to the site of the Hill of Crosses and you can freely roam around.

*Check local listings for updated train/bus times

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.