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STA Travel Blog

6 crazy carnivals from around the world

With Notting Hill taking place in London this weekend, we thought we’d take you on a whirlwind tour of the greatest, most renowned carnivals around the globe.

 

Rio de Janerio Carnival

rio carnival Continue reading

10 reasons why you should stop what you’re doing and go to Sri Lanka

 

Due to its shape and location in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is often called ‘the teardrop of India’. But we’re certain this affectionate nickname doesn’t do this pintsized tropical island any justice at all, when it’s so full of sun and huge smiles.

Oh, and tea. Lots of tea.

 

 

A place full of sunshine, big smiles and tea might seem complete… but there’s even more to Sri Lanka than that – a lot more. From authentic experiences with the warmest locals, to unique wildlife encounters (whales, turtles, leopards and elephants!), awesome trekking and world-class surfing, this south Asian destination offers so many exceptional journeys for travellers. The best bit? For now, Sri Lanka is still a little bit ‘off the beaten track’, meaning you’ll have these experiences somewhat to yourself.

Here’s ten reasons why you should stop, drop everything, and fly to Sri Lanka. Right now.    

 

Train journeys

 

Picture one town, bang in the centre of Sri Lanka, easily accessible from the capital of Colombo, and full of cool temples, awesome restaurants and stunning views – that’s Kandy. Picture another, smaller one a two-hour train journey away, right up amidst Sri Lanka’s grassy hills and tea plantations. That’s Ella, and the slow, chugging train journey between the two is quite possibly one of the best in the world.

Ensure you book a window seat in as much advance as possible, pack some snacks and a copy of Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar, then prepare to not read single page of it, as Sri Lanka’s inspiring landscapes unfold in front of you…

 

Whale watching

 

Time it right, (i.e. set your alarm for 5:30am, grit your teeth and bear it) and you’ll be in for the chance of a real-life Life of Pi moment. Sri Lanka is one of the best-value places in the world to spot the largest animals in it – blue whales could surface mere metres from the boat you’ll be bobbing around in.

Mirissa, in Sri Lanka’s south is the best place to spot whales between November and April. Outside of these times, it’s Uppuvelli and Trincomalee in the northeast, that will offer you a chance to get up close.    

 

Sigiriya    

 

Is it a fortress? A monastery? Why is it so high up? How did that rock it sits on get there? Nobody can work it out. Head an hour north from Kandy and clamber to the top of this curious rock, through the giant stone paws of the lion that once guarded it, and you’ll be in for some stellar views. Psst. we’ll let you in on a secret too. Head up Pidurangala Rock for sunset afterwards, for arguably even better ones!

 

Hiking Adam’s Peak

 

We’ll forgive you for assuming Sri Lanka is all warm beaches and tropical jungles. But Adam’s Peak soars 2,423m high, and his temple-clad peak is reachable via 7000 steps.

This place is shrouded in religious significance for not only Christians, but Buddhists and Muslims too. Big ol’ Adam is said to be where not only Adam (of Adam and Eve fame), but the Buddha and the prophet Mohammed first landed on the earth. Those who make a torch or candle-lit midnight pilgrimage to stand in their footprints, are rewarded with views as far as Colombo and the ocean.

And let’s face it, what backpacking trip would be complete without at least one real, buns of steel, fist pumping, joy-jumping snapshot on the top of the mountain you just conquered?!

 

Ella

 

What is it about this endearingly named village that makes it every traveller’s favourite? With its laid back people, uplifting colours, amazing day hikes amidst the endless tea plantations, fresh mountain air and burgeoning bar and restaurant scene, it’s easy to see why us travellers get glued here, often physically and always mentally, for a long time.

Trek Big Adam’s little brother, Little Adam, stroll down the railway line to the three arch bridge, or simply kick back with an endless supply of tea (we recommend Ella Flower Garden for the best views).

 

The locals

 

Ever cried from laughter with a stranger who doesn’t speak a word of the same language as you?

Sri Lankan locals are known to be warm, welcoming, laid-back, and heaps of fun. Open up, let them in, and accept their invitations (these will often range from free guided tours of their neighbourhood, to dinner, and from an impromptu game of drunken musical statues, to a full-blown hiking trip with their family).

 

The elephants     

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A seasoned nomad might travel every other country in Asia, and not see a wild elephant. That’s until they reach Sri Lanka. On this island, you’re more likely to spot a yellow ‘Caution! Wild Elephants’ sign on your road trip, than one advertising rides on the back of them.

Udawalwe National Park in southern Sri Lanka offers the best opportunity to spot elephants all year round, but if you’re lucky enough to be visiting the country in August or September, you’ll be there to witness the Elephant Gathering in Minneriya, a short drive from Sigiriya.

Take a jeep out to the lake here, and you’ll witness hundreds of elephants munching away in their most natural habitat, all wagging tails and flappy ears… and teeny tiny babies.    

 

Surfing 

This morning’s commute #foundit #paradise #heaven #koggala #unawatuna #Marissa #roadtrippin #lifesabeach   A post shared by Kim Durbridge (@kimswanderlist) on

If Bali comes first in Asia for the best waves, Sri Lanka comes a close second. Arugam Bay on the east coast, and Hikkaduwa on the southwest, near Galle and Colombo are a magnet for those svelte, tousled haired surfers and sea gypsy stereotypes. We recommend grabbing yourself a bungalow on the beach, ordering a bottle of Lion and waxing up your board, even If you’re a beginner.

And of course, wherever there’s surfing, there’s all night parties! Is there anything better than watching the early birds catch the best waves when you haven’t been to bed yet?

 

The Cultural Triangle

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Hire a bike, grab some mates and feel the dusty wind in your hair as you peddle around Anuradhapura, a huge complex of temples a few hours north of Kandy. Nearby, you’ll be able to take in lofty Sigiriya and the awesome, Buddha-filled and monkey-strewn cave temples of Dambulla.

These temples and monuments are all within a few hours bus ride of each other and public transport is cheap, easy and frequent.

 

#Foodporn

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Sri Lankans take the concept of Indian cooking to another level. More spice, more garlic, more ginger and some deliciously wacky offerings set them apart from the usual fare you’ll find elsewhere in the south Asian subcontinent.

Let’s start with breakfast. Where else in the world can you wake up and expect your first meal of the day to be a curry? (Yes, we’re serious). Then there’s the string hoppers: flat discs of soft noodles, perfect for drowning in your daal.

Lunch will typically consist of more daal and naan, best served from a bustling street stand for less than a £1. Then, there’s the mother of all hangover cures. We repeat. Sri Lanka is home to the mother of all hangover cures: Kottu. This dish consists of chapatis chopped, tossed and fried with spices, garlic, vegetables, meat, chicken, egg or even cheese, before being served up on a huge steaming plate. To sample the best, head to the famous Hotel de New Pilawoos on Galle Road in Colombo.

 

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Another absolute must for any foodie touching down in the capital of Colombo, is a sunset trip to Galle Face Green for tea, just a ten-minute walk from Hotel de New Pilawoos. Here, if you’ve the room left, you’ll find plastic tables and chairs full of locals, crowded round smoking food stands, offering everything from fresh seafood, to noodle dishes and curries. Dig in!

 

Want more excuses to pack your bags and head to this year’s hottest destination? Head over to our Sri Lanka travel guide to check out the cheapest flights there, plus adventure tours and more…

 

Instagram Envy: nab yourself summer 2017′s biggest travel trends

At STA Travel HQ, Summer 2017 has been all about the endless excuses for drinks in the sun, attending festivals (and recovering from them) and lusting over some of our favourite travel blogger’s summer escapades whilst conducting our destination research. We know. Hard life.

Here’s ten things that have been especially huge this summer… From must-visit destinations, to must-try food, to must-have festival items – they’ll guarantee your summer snaps will be instantly enviable. How many can you tick off before the summer is up?

 

1. Croatia

 

Everything you could ever want in life in one view!

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With endless island hopping opportunities, some of Europe’s best summer festivals and astounding scenery, all for an affordable price, we mean it when we say Croatia is the new Ibiza. We recommend starting in Italy’s canal-clad city of Venice before crossing the border into the Balkans for what has the potential to be the holiday of your life.

Get there: Search our Croatia tours here, we have some for under £500!

 

2. Santorini

 

 

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For a while, this dreamy whitewashed Greek island was pigeonholed as a honeymoon destination*. That’s until we realised Greece can still be crazy cheap.

How? We have tours of the Greek isles for under £500 here.

 

3. Festivals

 

 

Cold sweats, lump in the throat, angry phone-throwing… It can only mean one thing. We’re as sick with FOMO over everyone else’s snaps of Glastonbury, Secret Garden Party, Tomorrowland and Hideout as a lot of you probably are. But there’s still time! You can still nab tickets to Outlook in Croatia at face-value with our partners Festicket, here.

 

4. Glitter

 

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Glitter bums, glitter boobs, glitter beards, and glittered-up Love Island contestants. At festivals, gay pride parades, boat parties, beach parties and rooftop parties… If you haven’t woken up hungover in a bed full of the stuff at least once this summer, you haven’t been doing it right. Right?

Of course, the stuff’s a nightmare to get out of your carpet. But your mind can be at ease if you’re glittered up while you’re travelling, because you don’t even have to worry about cleaning it up. Bring on Full Moon.

 

5. Bottomless brunch

 

 

Well… we can’t all enjoy our brunch from a giant tray floating in a steamy spa pool.

Or suspended above endless Balinese rice terraces.

Or with longnecked new friends at Kenya’s Giraffe Manor.  But there’s every excuse to grab your pals and head for a few hours of all-you-can eat bacon and avocado and all-you-can-drink prosecco one Saturday.

Some of the best in London include DJ Seth Troxler’s Smokey Tails, Battersea’s Bunga Bunga, and East London’s ridiculously cool Bistrotheque. If you’re not in the capital, don’t sweat – the steakhouse chain Gaucho throw weekly Electro Brunches in Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds… the name says it all!

 

6. Aperol Spritz

 

Aperol Spritz with a view

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Where did this drink of dreams suddenly come from this summer? Well, Italy obviously. But suddenly, London’s installed taps for the stuff next to their beer offering and we’re all drinking this refreshing aperitif by the pint. One more?

 

 7. Watermelons

 

  Does anything scream ‘travelling in paradise!’ more than a giant juicy watermelon? If you can’t get your tropical dose somewhere genuinely tropical this summer, you can always buy something watermelon themed… or pineapple themed.        

8. See it to believe it food fads

 


We love a food fad. Unicorn ice-cream. Ramen noodle burgers. Toasties filled with rainbow cheese. Foodstuffs like these are reason enough to book a flight to their home cities. But our favourite of the summer? A flat-white served inside an avocado. Hipsters. Be. Trippin’.

Read more of the out-there food trends we love here.

 

9. The Cinque Terre

 

Missing those gelato before breakfast mornings in Italy

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Just a short – and super cheap – train journey from Pisa, this string of five colourful fishing villages built into Italy’s dramatic Mediterranean coastline is every wanderluster’s, Instagrammer’s, travel blogger’s, foodie’s and wine lovers’ dream. That’s why you probably haven’t been able to scroll down your Instagram feed without seeing this pastel patchwork of houses appear at least once this year. And the Cinque Terre isn’t just a pretty face. It’s the birthplace of pesto, a producer of fresh-from-the-vineyard (and budget-friendly) wine, home to awesome swimming spots, seriously scenic hikes and cosy trattorias… all hail the holy grail of Italian holiday destinations!

10. Cacti

 

Mexico-mania ain’t nothing new – we’ve always loved the food and dreamed of visiting its bright white beaches. But recently it seems you can’t call your pad ‘home’ unless you clad every conceivable surface in the country’s most famous plant. Above is Marrakech’s Jardin du Majorelle, where you’ll be able to get your fix of sky-high succulents, cobalt blue hues and other quirky garden décor… camera at the ready. Too far to fly? You can buy pretty much anything cactus or succulent themed from our friend at I Want One of Those, here! Our favourite? The blow up cactus!

11. Pool toys

 

A post shared by LAUREN BULLEN (@gypsea_lust) on

That unicorn, again! Plus pizza slices, doughnuts, swans and the coveted avocado… these flotation devices have blown up all over social media this summer – pun intentional. Guaranteed to make even the most boring of all-inclusive hotel swimming pools look like a party fit for the Hollywood Hills, and perfect for sleeping on or using as a meeting point for friends at festivals, you can shop most breeds of the inflatables here. Our favourites? We’re loving the pineapple

You are solid gold baby @elsas_wholesomelife   A post shared by LAUREN BULLEN (@gypsea_lust) on

And the icecream…

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And the flamingo! (Whether they be to float in, rest your drink in, or the real thing, in the Bahamas or Bolivia.

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Check out the full range of festival and pool party must haves from I Want one of Those here

Let’s get digital! Travelling the globe with your laptop

You’re heading on a round the world trip and you’ve been told over and over by the travel pro’s to bring as little as possible. I repeat as little as possible. But how can you narrow down your DSLR, GoPro, phone and do we even think about packing a laptop? The struggle is real! Whilst we don’t want to look like a walking, neon flashing sign that reads ‘rob me, I’m a backpacker’ we also want to the best travel photos and the opportunity to share and back those photos up, just in case.

We’ve partnered up with HP and their selection of sleek, light laptops to help solve those digital dramas. I mean, with travel shots like these, you need to back them up ASAP! (Psssst keep your eyes peeled for a special discount at the end of the page!)

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1. Ton Sai Bay, Thailand, home to scenes of stunning beaches and lime stone caves.

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2. Imagine all the wonderful underwater shots to share of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia!

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3. We all need a cheesy tourist shot at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy.

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4. All the photos of coconuts, the sandy beaches and the glistening sea in the Philippines.

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  5. Feeling like Lara croft at the World heritage site Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

6. Because you can’t risk losing photos of a hike to Machu Picchu!

7. Snapping away at Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia to create an iconic salt flat photo.

8. Tasting island life on a sailing trip through the San Blas Islands, Panama.

 

9. You’ll need to save memories of the icy hikes at the Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand.

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How good would a laptop be for chat sessions back home and movies to liven up those looong journeys?

 

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Maybe we’re just careless but too many phones and cameras have been lost to water damage or a cheeky pickpocket. And with it all our holiday memories – you think we’d have learnt our lesson by now? 


With HP’s wide laptop range, it’s now easier to pack a discreet and ultra thin laptop to back up those travel memories. Also perfect for when you return to the real world after a travelling stint (whyyyyyy?!), with loads of flexible designs and 4% off home Laptop and Desktop orders over £450 for a limited time **(Use code: CQ417HPAD02)** Get browsing >

 

10 WTF food moments of 2017

Remember when a burger was literally just a burger? And you could go out for brunch without everything on the menu having some link to avocados? Yeah, we don’t either. Less is more, but apparently not when it comes to food! Here’s a round up of 10 foods that made us have a WTF moment in 2017.

1. The sushi burger, NYC

What ever happened to a good ol’ burger bun?

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2. The freak shake, New Zealand

Heart attack in a Mason jar? Maybe. Are we going to have one anyway? Yassss.

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  3. Rainbow cheese, Hong Kong

Now that’s an end of a rainbow we will go searching for..

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4. The century egg, Macau

Ferment an egg in a mix of clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls for months and you’ll have yourself a Century Egg! Pretty similar to something you’d find in the back of a fridge in a Student house.

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5. Deconstructed spaghetti, Val d’isere

When self-service is given a whole new meaning…

6. Bacon doughnuts, Tampa

Sweet and sour. Ham and cheese. Chocolate and chili. But bacon and doughnuts? Surely not. Smells American.

  7. Waffle pops, California

Why fix what ain’t broke? Because adding a stick to a waffle apparently makes a good pic, that’s why.

8. Avocado coffee, Melbourne

We like avocados. We like coffee. So of course it makes sense to pour a cuppa into an avocado. #HipsterFoodTrendLogic

A post shared by Rosalie Simson (@rosimo84) on

 

9. Charcol Ice Cream, Toronto

Coconut flavoured, detoxing, jet black icecream that is darker than your soul? Yeah, we can’t argue with this one.

10. Plates No, we don’t want our food served on pieces of slate or chopping boards. So we definitely don’t want our bread in a Lego bread basket.

 

Want to read more like this? Check out the weirdest themed restaurants in Taiwan and more>