Monthly Archives: May 2017

The first hour guide to Tijuana, Mexico

Tijuana is best known for nightlife, so where should I go?

Mexico’s state drinking age of 18 and Tijuana’s proximity to Los Angeles and San Diegomeans it’s a mecca for young American boozers. But although this vibe certainly remains – there are enough free-pouring dive bars to satisfy the most demanding frat-squad – Tijuana’s bar scene is evolving to include gorgeous watering holes and stylish cocktail bars.

Head to La Justina for Tijuana’s top cocktails, run by San Diego’s fabulous Snake Oil Cocktail Company — the Labios Rios cocktail comes strong and garnished with fiery red chillies. Eating here is an equally exciting experience — try the octopus tostaditos as a dreamy bar snack.

Plaza Fiesta, an old (and slightly dated) outdoor mall is without doubt the best place for local brews. El Depa is small and kitsch, but the beer selection is vast and well-worth sampling. When you get hungry head downstairs to El Tigre for sophisticated cocktails and sriracha fries.

For beer with a super local soul, head to Mamut Cerveza on the newly spruced-up Passaje Rodriguez. This venue sells brews for $1.18 a bottle with the aim to making craft beer accessible to all.

Baja California is also known for its blossoming wine scene, and luckily the Valle de Guadalupe is just an hour from Tijuana.

And what should I eat?

Tacos tacos tacos. Why eat anything else in Tijuana? Visitors to the city should hunker down on one of the bright red stools at a street side taqueria at least once.The Mazateno is regularly voted the number one taqueria in the city – locals swear by the chilli shrimp taco and the super cheesy enchiladas.

Tio Pepe Tacos is also a residents’ favourite – the tasty potato tacos come with a heaped serving of fresh cabbage carnitas and the meat options are sumptuous too. For something a little different, head to Kokopelli which serves up octopus pesto tacos and squid ink ceviche – it’s one of the rising stars of Tijuana’s foodie scene.

The city is also the place to come for super-fresh mariscos (seafood). Run from popular food hall Food Garden, Erizo is the brainchild of the city’s most famous chef, Javier Plascencia. In 2013 the Food Garden grew out of the Distrito Gastronomico and became a new home for some of Tijuana’s busiest street vendors.

There’s fine dining on offer too. Mision 19 is Plascencia’s flagship restaurant and elevates border food to next-level luxury. The design here is sleek, and typical Baja Californian ingredients are crafted into dishes such as roast suckling pig, beef tablitas and grilled octopus.

5 good Chinese food and you need to try

1. Dumplings – jiǎozi

You’ll find these bite-size, crescent-shaped parcels sold everywhere across the country, from tiny hole-in-the-walls at train stations to street stalls at lively public squares. Pinch your chopsticks over each piece and dip into a soy or chilli sauce, before sinking your teeth into the thin dough and soft meat and vegetable mix (usually pork and cabbage).

Plenty of hotels and tour groups organize dumpling-making classes for travellers, but you’ll be able to experience the real deal at a homestay. Traditionally, families would servejiǎozi to celebrate their recoveries from winter illnesses. To this day, creating jiǎozi makes for major family-bonding time, particularly in the run-up to big festivals such as Spring Festival.

2. Xi’an pancake – xian bing

Sometimes dry, but always delicious, this Chinese-Islamic snack originates from the eponymous city in central China. Flaked meat is loaded in between two thin discs of dough, accompanied with a handful of cabbage and flecks of fresh ginger, diced onions and a splash of Shaoxing rice wine and chilli oil.

One of the best places to grab a xian bing is from one of the (many) small stalls in the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an, the hub of the Muslim community, just west of the Bell Tower.

3. Beijing pancake – jianbing

This 2000-year-old snack is so popular in the capital that, for those on the go, it’s the one thing that’s worth the wait. First the batter is thinly spread out onto a hotplate, then various toppings, sauces and spices are generously sprinkled and dolloped on as the batter crunches and curves skywards.

Next, a smaller, golden sheet of crispy batter (bao cui) is placed inside, which crackles as the jianbing is folded up like a parcel and served.

4. Steamed buns – baozi

If you spot both locals and travellers swarming around puffs of billowing steam in the morning, there’s a good chance you’ve stumbled across a baozi stall – make sure you get in line.

A popular breakfast choice, baozi are served on bamboo steamer baskets, but you’ll only need one or two to keep you going. Made using thick dough, it has a fluffy yet heavier consistency than jiǎozi, and feels as if you’re biting into a warm roll. It’s the fillings, from red beans to seaweed to minced beef, that liven up this otherwise plain bun: as soon as your teeth reach the centre, the flavour bursts and ripples across your tongue.

5. Candied fruit on a stick – tánghúlu

If you’re in need of something sweet after a big dinner, the go-to Chinese treat is tánghúlu. Skewered fruits (grapes, hawthorns, strawberries) are doused in sweet syrup that crystallises and hardens. This candied treat was first created over 800 years ago but it’s still believed to help with digestion problems.

You’ll need to crunch through the hard coating of sugar first to get to the sweet burst of fruits inside. It also has a distinctive, lingering smell, so it’s best to try one first at Wangfujing Market, Beijing, before deciding whether you can handle the annual Tánghúlu Fair in Qingdao.

Breaking Caribbean prints in Dominica

Why should I go?

Rising starkly out of the Caribbean Sea to the west and the Atlantic to the east, Dominica is covered in steep hills and thick jungle peppered with waterfalls, freshwater lakes and sulphuric pools. Black-sand beaches and rocky coves line the shores – and there isn’t a mega-resort in sight.

Tangling tropical foliage is home to an incredible array of flora and fauna. And despite this huge variety of wildlife, there are no venomous snakes or spiders to worry about.

But without the typical Caribbean draws of white-sand beaches, and with an airport that only serves other nearby islands, development on Dominica has remained slow, low-key and independently run. Though cruise ships do stop here in season (October–March), passengers generally only stay for the day, and the island is otherwise quiet.

There are no malls or chain shops, either. Pretty much everything in Roseau, the capital, is locally owned. Come here and you’re in for a truly Dominican experience.

Why is now a good time to visit?

Storm Erika ripped through Dominica in August 2015, killing at least twenty people and causing colossal damage to roads, farmland, livestock and buildings. Two years on, after a huge recovery effort, the island is back on its feet, and tourism is more important than ever.

The island has only 75,000 overnight visitors per year ­– a tiny amount compared to nearby Barbados, which sees around 1.3 million tourists annually. But the prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, has promised that a new international airport will become a reality.

Currently, the tiny Douglas–Charles Airport only operates flights to other Eastern Caribbean islands. If the new airport plans come to fruition, the number of visitors to Dominica will skyrocket. Get there before the rest of the world does (and try to avoid peak cruise ship season, too).

Where can I unleash my sense of adventure?

Dominica is not short of waterfalls. One of the most popular is on the east side of the island, not far from Rosalie Bay. Hike down one hundred steps past overhanging trees, draping vines and brightly coloured flowers to the icy cold, green waters of Emerald Pool, into which flows a magnificent waterfall.

Getting to Boiling Lake, the second-largest hot springs in the world, also requires a six-hour hike through dense forest, bubbling mud pools and a volcanic area named the “Valley of Desolation”. After this you emerge over the lake to see an immense cloud of steam rising off the grey-blue water. The Boiling Lake trailhead is near Titou Gorge, where you can swim through the refreshingly cool water into the darkness between the gorge walls, against the strong current, to a gushing waterfall. The dappled light streaming down through the thick foliage up above is nothing short of ethereal. For a journey into the mysterious depths of the island, take a boat trip down the Indian River, which was the set location (among other places on the island) for Pirates of the Caribbean II: Dead Man’s Chest. Minutes after the sound of the busy main road drifts away, the river narrows, trees close in overhead, the sunlight dims, and the only sound is of birdcall. The swirling tree roots seem to overtake the shoreline, intertwined in fantastic patterns. It’s as if you’ve entered a fantasy world A 15-square-kilometre area in northeast Dominica is Kalinago Territory – land belonging to the indigenous Kalinago (or Carib) people, who inhabited the island long before European colonization. A model village, Kalinago Barana Auté, showcases the traditional practices and values of this tiny ethnic group.

A village tour involves learning the history of the Kalinago people as you are shown round by an extremely knowledgeable local guide. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet ex-chief Faustulus Frederick on your way round, as he makes crafts in a small hut on site, overlooking the ocean.

Will I see some marine life up close?

Whale-watching is a big draw. Dominica is the only country where you can see sperm whales offshore year-round (though November–March is the most likely), and there’s also a high chance of spotting either killer whales or large pods of dolphins.

The whale-watching boats track the creatures with underwater audio devices (hydrophones). Highly trained staff can tell how many whales are communicating, and how far away they are, from the giant creatures’ clicking sounds, which are played aloud to passengers.

Go snorkelling at Champagne Reef with a guide, and you’re guaranteed to see an abundance of sea life, such as parrotfish, needlefish, sea cucumbers, puffer fish, green turtles, trumpet fish, huge yellow-tube sponges and more. Plus you’ll be swimming in water that’s literally bubbling (hence the reef’s name), as thousands of little pockets of sulphur emerge from the volcanic rock beneath.

Similarly, at Bubble Beach, by the town of Soufrière in the island’s southwest, the sea shallows are warmed by hot sulphuric gases trickling into the water in tiny bubbles – watch out in the shallows, it gets really hot.

6 of the best and most beautiful beaches in Portugal

1. Praia de Tavira, Ilha de Tavira, The Algarve

Linked to the mainland by ferry, the superb Praia de Tavira, is located on the Ilha de Tavira, a sandbar island that stretches southwest from Tavira almost as far as Fuseta.

Strung along this are miles of soft, dune-baked sand, without a hotel in sight. The main part of the beach is dotted with umbrellas and pedalos for rent, and scattered with a handful of bar-restaurants.

In high summer this part of the beach can get very busy, but you only have to wander fifteen minutes or so to escape the crowds. Come here out of season and you’ll probably have the place to yourself.

2. Praia da Marinha and Benagil, The Algarve

The stretch of coast between Armação de Pêra and Centianes has a series of delightful cove beaches that have mostly escaped large-scale development. Two of these idyllic beaches stand out: Praia da Marinha and Benagil.

A classic cliff-backed warren of coves, the only trace of development on Praia da Marinha is the seasonal beach restaurant. Follow the clifftop path on from here as it winds round to the next bay at Benagil, a pint-sized village with its fine beach sitting beneath high cliffs. Fishing boats can take you out to an amazing sea cave, as large as a cathedral, with a hole in its roof.

3. Nazaré, Estremadura

Now a busy seaside resort – with all the hustle and trimmings that you’d expect with that title – the former fishing village of Nazaré has a great town beach. The main stretch is an expanse of clean sand, packed with multicoloured sunshades in summer, while further beaches spread north beyond the headland.

The water might look inviting on calm, hot days, but it’s worth bearing in mind that swimming off these exposed Atlantic beaches can be dangerous. Nazaré has a worldwide reputation among surfers seeking serious waves – this is where the world’s largest-ever wave was surfed. 

4. Foz de Minho, The Minho

Just 2km southwest from the sleepy town of Caminha lies Foz de Minho, Portugal’s northernmost beach.

Located on an idyllic wooded peninsula where the broad estuary of the Rio Minho flows into the Atlantic, here a wooden boardwalk hugs the water’s edge, leading to a sheltered river beach. Wander slightly further on for five minutes through the pines, and you’ll reach a great Atlantic beach, with a little fortified islet just offshore and Spain visible opposite.

5. Praia da Figueira, The Algarve

You’ll have to walk to get here, but it’s worth it to find this often deserted beach. The small village of Figueira, is the starting point for a rough track to Praia da Figueira, that lies below the ruins of an old fort. This is one of the least-visited beaches along this stretch of coastline, mainly due to the fact that it’s not reachable by car. The walk takes twenty to thirty minutes, with the path passing through some lovely countryside.

6. Praia de Odeceixe, The Algarve

Sleepy out of season, the charming village of Odeceixe comes to life in the summer when it draws a stream of surfers and holidaymakers, lured by it’s magnificent beach, which lies just 4km west of the village.

In the summer take the road train to Praia de Odeceixe, or follow the road on foot through the river valley to the broad bay framed by low cliffs. The beach here is one of the most sheltered along this stretch of coast, where you can enjoy fantastic surfing, and relatively safe swimming.