29 November 2013 by David Ward
The best places on the planet to combine wildlife and culture with that well earned and much loved beach holiday
Most of us love a beach holiday – of course we do, what's not to love? The chance to kick back, with nothing more to do than sip on a cold beer or cocktail, read a good book, work on the sun tan and enjoy the occasional dip in the sea, all just a few steps away from your luxury suite and the swim-up bar of your hotel's beachfront pool, sounds pretty good to me. The only problem with such unadulterated and utterly shameless loafing is that after a few days, I, like many others I'm sure, have had enough, and begin restlessly searching for something active to fill the long hours between breakfast, lunch and dinner.
As luck would have it, the answer to this age-old conundrum is a simple one. There's a whole host of destinations from Europe to South America, from South East Asia to the Indian Subcontinent, which are tailor made for combining history, culture and wildlife with a bit of well-earned beach time.
Here we take a look at some of the best places on the planet to get in touch with your adventurous side, while at the same time indulging your inner Robinson Crusoe.
Brazil has an exciting few years in store. With a World Cup and the Olympics both on the horizon, travellers will be descending on this sun-drenched South American paradise in ever increasing numbers. Brazil is certainly blessed with an abundance of beaches; from world-famous Copacabana to the idyllic northern coastal resorts of Bahia, you'll never have to stray to far to find a postcard-perfect stretch of sand, but it's the country's multitude of other highlights, including the wildlife-rich expanses of the Amazon rainforest, the awe-inspiring beauty of Iguassu Falls, and the colourful cities of Rio de Janeiro and Salvador that earn Brazil its place on our list.
Vast swathes of untouched rainforest, towering volcanic peaks and an abundance of spectacular animal, bird and plant life, ensures Costa Rica's status as one of the world's most exciting eco-tourism destinations. From white-water rafting to guided volcano treks, there's all manner of activities on offer for the adventurous traveller, and for culture vultures, Costa Rica's capital San Jose, surrounded by active volcanoes and some of the country's largest coffee plantations, offers great examples of traditional and Spanish architecture as well as a host of museums, galleries and theatres. And once the adventure's over there's some stunning beaches on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts to choose from.
Home to the iconic Serengeti National Park, scene of the spectacular Great Migration; the vast expanse of the Ngorogoro Crater; the dramatic landscapes of the Great Rift Valley; and majestic Mount Kilimanjaro – Africa's tallest peak – Tanzania is one of the world's great safari destinations. It's sometimes easy to forget then, that just 20 miles or so off the Tanzanian coast, in the warm, turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, is one of the world's true island idylls. Combining the unique history and culture of one of East Africa's most important trading posts with some utterly breathtaking beaches, the beautiful spice islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, which make up part of the larger Zanzibar Archipelago, are the perfect accompaniment to a week of wildlife viewing on the Tanzanian mainland.
This two-country combo might just be the ultimate all-rounder. South Africa offers visitors the complete holiday package. The iconic tourist hotspots of Cape Town and the Garden Route are unceasingly popular and play host to some of the world's finest restaurants and wineries, while the wildlife-rich plains of the Kruger National Park are home to the fabled Big Five of leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo and rhino. And once you've exhausted South Africa's almost endless possibilities, neighbouring Mozambique boasts some of the best, and least touristy beaches south of the equator. Job done.
Without doubt one of our favourite destinations, and the only European country to make it onto our list, Croatia is home to spectacular national parks, centuries-old cities and an unspoilt coastline of idyllic islands, quiet coves and traditional villages. A few days in the medieval towns of Dubrovnik and Split will satisfy the thirst of even the most avid history buff, while the crystalline waters of the Adriatic, and the beautiful beaches of the dazzling Dalmatian Coast will ensure that even the most demanding of sun-worshippers will return home happy.
If culture's your thing, India has it in spades. From the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas to the coastal plains of Karnataka, this remarkable country of over a billion people is alive with colour, energy, vibrancy and verve. And once you've marvelled at the magnificence of the Taj Mahal, toured the palaces and forts of royal Rajasthan and searched for Tigers in the Ranthambore National Park, there's plenty of scope for rest and relaxation on the gorgeous golden sands of Goa, or the beautiful backwaters and beaches of Kerala.
From top to toe Vietnam is tailor-made for touring. Walk the bustling streets of Saigon and Hanoi, cruise past the beautiful limestone pillars of Ha Long Bay, experience the magic of the Mekong Delta and delve into centuries of history in the charming coastal towns of Hue and Hoi An, all the while enjoying some of South East Asia's finest food. And the times don't end there. Along Vietnam's southern coast you'll find some of Indochina's best beaches, including the ever popular Nha Trang and the less-visited but stunningly beautiful Mui Ne Peninsula. And if its island life you're after, Vietnam can offer that too, with the remote Con Dao archipelago, some 90 miles from Saigon in the South China Sea, and the peaceful island of Phu Quoc in the tropical Gulf of Thailand, both scoring highly on the relaxation scale.
Tried and tested, then tried again, Thailand has long been a favourite haunt for travellers of all ages and budgets seeking their own little slice of paradise. The ever popular beach resorts of Phuket, Krabi, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are well known for their luxury hotels, all-night parties and, in some cases, slightly seedy elements, but look beyond the obvious tourist traps, to the smaller islands such as Koh Kood and Koh Madsum, and you'll discover why Thailand was such a popular destination for beach lovers in the first place. But it's away from the beaches that Thailand really excels. The live-wire capital Bangkok is a buzzing 24-hour metropolis that blends history and culture with some of Asia's best restaurants and nightlife, the northern city of Chiang Mai is a great spot to explore the country's hill tribe cultures, and the spectacular Khao Yai National Park is awash with waterfalls and wildlife, amidst a stunning jungle backdrop.
Malaysia boasts an astonishing variety of cultures, religions, wildlife and landscapes. Whether its searching for orangutans in the wild jungles of northern Borneo, sipping tea in the verdant hills of the Cameron Highlands, or trekking through the rainforests of the spectacular Taman Negara National Park, the sheer wealth of experiences on offer cements Malaysia's status as one of the world's truly outstanding holiday destinations. And when its time to hit the beach, there's so many options to choose from its hard to know where to begin. The west coast of the Malay Peninsula serves up a feast of well-known classics such as Pangkor Laut and Langkawi, while the east coast islands of Tioman, the Perhentians and Redang offer some of the country's best beaches, as well as world-class diving and snorkelling. Over in Borneo, the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park boats five reef-fringed islands, with secluded bays and spectacular views of Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia's highest mountain.