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On holiday with Indiana Jones

Thirty years since Raiders of the Lost Ark came to the big screen, the intrepid archaeologist with the bullwhip is still inspiring travellers, says Matt Barr

What's the attraction?

Thirty years ago this month, Indiana Jones burst on to the big screen for the first time in Raiders of the Lost Ark, directed by Steven Spielberg. The creation of George Lucas, "Indy" was the world's coolest archaeologist – as adept with biblical history as he was handy with a bullwhip; as ruggedly charming with his leading lady as he was brutal to the baddies. ("Nazis. I hate these guys," he memorably opined in a later instalment, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.) But our hero was only part of the films' appeal. Equally important to an enraptured audience were the exotic locations that formed the backdrop to Dr Jones's breakneck adventures through the likes of Egypt, India, Jordan, Venice and – in the long-awaited fourth film in the franchise, released in 2008 – Peru. Now, three decades after the release of Raiders, it has never been easier to follow in Indy's fictional footsteps.

Full steam ahead

Although we first meet Indiana Jones in Raiders, his backstory is really only explored in the prologue to The Last Crusade, in a scene that introduces Indiana's childhood fear of snakes (and his fondness for his battered hat) as he evades a group of treasure hunters in a chase that climaxes on a circus train. Most of this sequence was filmed in Colorado's Arches National Park and on the steam-powered Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. Cosmos Tours and Cruises (0844 573 0662; www.cosmos toursand cruises.co.uk) covers both on its 10-day National Parks & Trains of Colorado Tour, which starts at £1,640 per person including flights, accommodation and excursions.

Aloha, Indiana

George Lucas described the all-important first scene in Raiders – in which our hero almost loses that iconic hat – as an attempt to "establish that everybody is trying to kill him". Although set in the Peruvian jungle, it was actually filmed on location at the sprawling Kipu Ranch in Kauai, Hawaii. Today, the rope swing upon which Jones swings to freedom is still there, and you can have the chance to re-enact the scene for yourself by swinging over the Hule'ia River as part of ATV Ranch and Mountain Tour – where you drive around on buggies - with Kipu Ranch Adventures (001 808 246 9288; www.kiputours.com). Prices for the three-hour adventure start at $131 (£80) for drivers and $105 (£65) for passengers, and include tuition, guides and snacks

Treasure hunting in Jordan

The climactic scene in Last Crusade, in which Indy, Dr Jones Snr (played by Sean Connery) and a motley band of Nazis discover the final resting place of the Holy Grail, required a truly iconic location. And they don't come much more impressive than the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. "The rose red city" was carved entirely from sandstone by the Nabateans in the 6th Century BC and today stands as arguably one of the most impressive visitor attractions in the world. Bales Worldwide (0845 057 0600; www.balesworldwide.com) has an eight-day "Treasures of Jordan" trip that takes in Petra and the rest of the country's embarrassment of historical riches, including travel along the ancient King's Highway and a visit to the Greco-Roman city of Jerash. Prices start at £1,495 per person including accommodation, flights, transfers and some meals.

Short Round trip

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was set in India, although many of the Mayapore village scenes were actually filmed in Sri Lanka, near Kandy. Unfortunately, the famous rope bridge was the product of studio trickery, but local tour guides will take you to its location outside Kandy. Follow in Indiana and Short Round's footsteps on a tailor-made itinerary with Real Holidays (020-7359 3938; www.realholidays.co.uk) that includes an elephant-back safari at Lake Kandalama, time in Kandy and the Cultural Triangle, and three nights on the beach, from £1,475 per person in November. The price includes flights and B&B throughout.

Dig deep in Egypt

To Spielberg and Lucas, Indiana's expertise as an "outlaw archaeologist" who "knows how to enter a tomb without destroying it" was a key part of his character. In Raiders, large parts of which are set in Cairo, our hero sneakily excavates ancient Egyptian ruins in his quest to find the Ark of the Covenant. For some archaeological insight of your own, The Traveller (020-7269 2770; www.the-traveller.co.uk) runs an Alexandria, Amarna and Abu Simbel tour led by Carol Andrews, current Egyptology professor at Birkbeck College, University of London. The 15-night tour allows access to sites usually off-limits to the public, and starts at £2,345 per person, including flights, transport, B&B accommodation and guiding.

A European adventure

In The Last Crusade, Indiana gets a clue in his quest for the Holy Grail after a visit to the catacombs of Venice's Church of San Barnaba, a beautiful baroque building in the Dorsoduro district that dates back to 1749. Cox & Kings (0845 527 9374; www.coxandkings.co.uk) offers a three-night stay at the Hotel Palazzo Stern, located a few streets away from San Barnaba, from £505 per person in July, with BA flights from Gatwick and breakfast. Still in Europe, you can re-enact Indiana's airship flight over the Alps in the Last Crusade by climbing aboard an original Zeppelin from Friedrichshafen in Germany with Zeppelin Tours (08704 798 373; www.coxandkings.co.uk). Flights start at €200.

Crystal amaze

The world had changed by the time Indiana came out of retirement for his most recent outing in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but the familiar themes remained the same, including a globe-trotting itinerary that saw Indy and sidekick Mutt trying to find a link between the eponymous Crystal Skull and Peru's enigmatic Nazca Lines. Although filming took place in Hawaii once more, Peru's epic landscape and the country's ancient geoglyphs can be seen via a tour with Explore (0844 499 0901; www.explore.co.uk), which visits both the jungle and the Nazca Lines from £2,346 per person including flights, all transport, 17 nights' accommodation, some meals and guiding.

What Google will tell you...

According to online theorists (although never confirmed by George Lucas himself), the Indiana Jones character is said to have been based on Hiram Bingham III, who found fame as the first Westerner to stumble across the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru in 1911. The centenary of this discovery is being celebrated on 7 July, with Bono, Sting and Paul McCartney in the frame to attend a lavish ceremony at the Inca site.

What Google won't tell you... until now

En route to Petra, travellers are often offered the chance to be whisked onwards by camel "taxi drivers". While Indiana would certainly approve of this mode of transport, the fares charged vary wildly depending on how rich – or how tired – you look, so speak to your guide and make sure you pay the right price.

Who said that?

"Raiders was the first movie where I actually shot the movie without thinking. I like to say that the line that most typifies the production of that movie was when Harrison says, 'I'm making this up as I go along.'" Director Steven Spielberg

"You want to talk to God? Let's go see him together, I've got nothing better to do." Indiana Jones talks tough in Raiders of the Lost Ark

"Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?" Dr Jones confronts his deepest fear