If you like a little cosmopolitan exploration before laying languid by the sand, pair a city stay alongside your beach holiday. Audley specialists suggest combinations that will have you admiring Frida Kahlo’s artwork in Mexico City before swimming along the Pacific Coast, or touring Bangkok’s food stalls before staying at an opulent beach resort.
Nairobi and Zanzibar
The most cosmopolitan city in East Africa, Nairobi juxtaposes concrete and congestion with leafy suburbs and a large national park. While the city itself is no looker, there are places within it that highlight the country’s enterprising culture and its wildlife.
Nairobi National Park is the only place in the world where you can watch lion against the hazy backdrop of a city skyline. Black rhino, zebra, antelope, wildebeest and buffalo graze its open plains, watched by hungry predators. Within the same park, you’ll find the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Elephant Orphanage. Dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating orphaned young elephant, the orphanage opens to the public for an hour each day. You can watch up close as the resident orphans emerge for their daily mud bath and midday feed.
To the west of the park is Giraffe Manor, a colonial mansion dating to 1932 that’s now a popular high-end hotel. But you don’t need to be staying here to meet its most revered residents: a collection of endangered Rothschild giraffe. By day, they roam the manor’s extensive grounds, which double up as a sanctuary.
Then, for a real change of scene, a 90-minute flight can get you to the pearly shores of Zanzibar. Stay at the Baraza Resort & Spa, whose Arabian-style villas are set on a stretch of fine white sand on the island’s southeastern coast. From here, you can head out on snorkeling or diving trips, tour spice farms, or try water sports such as paddle boarding, kayaking and wind surfing.
Perth has to be one of the best cities in the world for combining beach time with urban life.
Now you might think that Perth’s blocky, impersonally glossy business district has little character, and you’d be right. But within a 15-minute walk you’ll come to the open, meadow-like expanses of King’s Park, which boasts water features and a glass-walled bridge snaking through the treetops. Locals like to come here to picnic in the evenings with a bottle or two of something chilled.
Then, a minute’s train ride from the CBD (central business district) brings you to suburbs such as Subiaco, where you’ll find an exuberant al fresco café culture. And only a 40-minute train ride transports you to the rogueish charms of Fremantle, a seaside town with rich convict heritage and a burgeoning artisan food and craft beer scene.
Perth’s closest beaches (City and Cottesloe) lie a 20-minute drive from the CBD. Less individual beach, more a single, endless-seeming swathe of tawny sand stretching all the way to the horizon in both directions, you don’t come here to surf, swim, or pose, but to kick back and absorb an outdoorsy, quintessential slice of Australiana.
Families and friends lounge on the sand or on the grassy lawns bordering it. Locals walk dogs, jog, play impromptu games of cricket and string up slacklines between the trees. Several sections are fronted with boutique restaurants and bars.
Then, for less manicured but far quieter beaches, head to Rottnest Island, 18 km (11.2 miles) off Perth’s coast. The island teems with deserted, sandy coves, and the menthol-blue water entices even the most reluctant of swimmers.
Mexico City and Zihuatanejo, Mexico
Mexico’s megalopolis can leave you reeling from sensory and cultural overload — in a good way. For starters, you could wander around the many floors of the cavernous Anthropological Museum — the ideal introduction to Mexico’s many Mesoamerican cultures, especially if you’re planning to explore Maya ruins within the course of your Mexico tour. Then there’s the Blue House, the former home of Frida Kahlo and a now a quasi-shrine to her life and her surrealist work (many of her paintings are on display at the city’s Dolores Olmedo Museum).
For art of a different kind, pass by the National Palace to take in the fervently political murals of her husband, Diego Rivera. And if your visit coincides with a weekend, you could explore the floating gardens of Xochimilco on a traditional trajinera, a luridly painted gondola. Expect a soundtrack of market venders, Mariachi bands, and excitable children on family outings.
Conversely, if you’re looking for somewhere to wind down during a visit to Mexico, the coastal village of Zihuantanejo offers smooth, golden-sand, low-key beaches. They’re refreshingly free from the hype you can sometimes find on the better-known Riviera Maya.
Less than a 90-minute flight from Mexico City, Zihuatanejo played an important role in The Shawshank Redemption, but fame hasn’t gone to its head. It’s the kind of place where, in the mornings, local fishermen hawk their hours-old catch on the pier. A couple of fine dining restaurants (try the tuna carpaccio) sit alongside unpretentious beach shacks serving fresh seafood. There’s a real lack of foreigners: this is a beach spot still mostly beloved only by Mexicans.
You can wander along the wooden walkway bordering the main beach, Playa de la Ropa, or take trips across the bay to an even quieter crescent of sand, Playa las Gatas. The sea has the temperature of bathwater, and although Mexico’s Pacific coast is known for its surf, the bays are fairly enclosed here, making for calm swimming.
Mumbai and Goa, India
Stay a few nights in Mumbai and you can experience almost every facet India has to offer. Gastronomists can enjoy high tea in the Art Deco surrounds of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, followed by an evening street food tour of pungent dosas, crispy bhel (puffed rice) and kulfi (ice cream). You can visit Iskcon Temple, an ornate Hindu temple that’s wreathed in incense, then step into the hushed nave of Saint Thomas Cathedral, the first built by the British.
Wake early and you can take a guided tour of the city as it rumbles awake, watching the day’s catch as it’s auctioned off and newspaper vendors cycle through the streets with their freshly-printed wares. You could take a walk past India Gate, which stands sentinel at the ferry port, to see the fishing boats moored along the jetty.
In short, there’s a lot to do. If you need to pause for breath, take a walk through the orderly gardened courtyards of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Over a century old, it’s hosted dignitaries and celebrities from Lord Mountbatten to Queen Elizabeth II and Barack Obama. Stay in the Palace Wing (the hotel’s original wing) and you’ll find Italian marble bathrooms, Art Deco fabrics and polished teak furniture.
You can then follow in the footsteps of many of Mumbai’s colonial elite, and escape to the peaceful shores of Goa. Your trip will be much quicker than theirs, however — a flight that takes just over an hour. Goa may becon wandering backpackers, but they’ll head north to the beach bars and you can head south to a quiet sandy bay where you’ll find The Leela, an opulent dusky pink hotel that is set around a tranquil lagoon.
Bangkok and Thai beach
Some Asian mega-cities can be quite a shock to the system if you’ve never delved before, but Bangkok seems to put visitors at ease. It may be its East-meets-West familiarities or the Thai sense of sà-nùk (cheerfulness) that greets you. Spend a few nights here to see the cultural essentials, or you can use it as a base for a longer stay, taking trips out into the surrounding countryside.
Some visitors tend to congregate around Khao San Road which has a tourist-focused night market — think slogan t-shirts and questionable DVDs. To get a more local feel, take a guided food tour with a Bangkok resident through Bang Rak. In this district, locals work in gleaming, angular skyscrapers whilst below, a warren of street carts, stalls and tiny restaurants provide breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Nibble on freshly cooked chicken satay and tackle bowls of steaming noodles enlivened with lemongrass and chilli. Everything is made fresh daily, so you might catch a vendor making curry paste from a bewildering array of ingredients or mixing cha yen (iced tea). The produce is gathered from the nearby market where mounds of papaya and mangoes are precariously balanced next to bouquets of fresh-cut herbs.
Thailand’s beach destinations are just as easy-going, and with more than 3,219 km (2,000 miles) of coastline, there’s likely to be a patch of sand to suit you. Sybarites can bask in the lavish surroundings at Six Senses Yao Noi, on the undeveloped island of Koh Yao Noi (the infinity pool overlooks the limestone karts of Phang Nga Bay). For the more active, Bangsak Village is an intimate resort on the west coast, near the tangled jungle of Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park.
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