The obsessive traveller

The Independent travel desk's panel of experts answer your queries

Safety first in Java I am looking for an activity holiday and have been considering backpacking in Java but I have heard Jakarta is not the safest place. What dangers might I encounter?
J J Richardson, by e-mail

Safety first in Java I am looking for an activity holiday and have been considering backpacking in Java but I have heard Jakarta is not the safest place. What dangers might I encounter? J J Richardson, by e-mail

Phil Haines replies: Jakarta, like many major cities, has a problem with thieves targeting tourists. You appear rich because your backpack is like a portable treasure chest. Avoid city bus travel, wearing jewellery and watches and always know where your passport and loot are.

Recently, Jakarta has seen frequent civil riots and bombings, and more trouble is expected throughout the trial of ex-president Suharto. Regardless of these day-to-day problems, Jakarta is an overwhelming, noisy and polluted Asian city, so I recommend just visiting the old town of Kota (formerly Dutch Batavia) before taking an overnight train out to Yogyakarta. Try to book the nine-hour journey in "bisnis" or "eksekutif" class; they are good value at £2 and £5 respectively.

Yogyakarta is the cultural core of Java and a popular place to unwind and discover batik, wayang puppets and gamelan orchestras; the pyramidal ruins of Borobudur (among the top three Buddhist ruins in south-east Asia) are 90 minutes by bus (there are regular departures).

Onwards from Yogyakarta, an eight-hour bus ride takes you to Probolinggo, the starting point for visits to the active volcano, Gunung Bromo, one of the most impressive sights in Indonesia. Another night bus can take you to Bali.

An open-jaw flight enabling you to fly from Heathrow into Jakarta and depart from Bali costs from £574 including taxes with Royal Brunei Airlines through All Seasons (tel: 020-7637 8832). A standard return from Heathrow to Jakarta with Kuwait Airways costs from £375 plus taxes through City Bond Travel (tel: 020-7408 1535).

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office supplies useful advice via its website (net:, and the British Embassy also has a website (net: www.britain-in-indonesia). The Indonesian Embassy (tel: 020-7499 7661) can give up-to-date news. You will not require a visa if you stay for less than 60 days.

Kilimanjaro climb My boyhood dream has always been to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and view the spectacular African plains from this vantage point. How difficult is the climb - is supreme physical fitness a necessity? Can you recommend any companies which operate such excursions and how much do they cost? Paul Collender by e-mail

The Travel Desk replies: Fortunately, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro - the highest peak in Africa at 19,340ft (5,895m) - does not require specialised mountaineering experience or equipment and anyone who is in reasonable shape should be able to reach the summit without too much of a problem.

However, the ascent is still a strenuous climb, much of which is undertaken at high altitude, and requires a consistent effort over four days. Also, the super-fit should remember that they often fall victim to altitude sickness because, in their haste, they ascend too quickly.

As the mountain is home to many potential dangers it is essential that you book your hike with a reputable organisation. This will be expensive, but worthwhile. Guides offering cheaper prices at the foot of the mountain may not be as scrupulous and will not have the necessary resources in case of an emergency.

The most popular path to the summit is along the Marangu route, which takes five days, including a day to descend. For those keen to escape bumping into fellow hikers, the Machame route is not as busy, is considered to be more scenic and takes a minumum of six days to complete the trek.

Explore Worldwide (tel: 01252 760000) offers a 10-day package to Tanzania, which includes a six-day Kilimanjaro hike, complete with a mountain guide, porters and cook. The cost is £1,730, including return flights, transfers, b&b accommodation, taxes and park fees. A local payment of $720 (£514) is also payable. Alternatively, you could arrange everything once you are in Tanzania. Afri-galaxy tours (tel: 00 2 55 272 750 268), based in Moshi, offers guided hikes along the Marangu route for US$600 per person. A return flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport this autumn, including taxes, will cost £496.10 with KLM via Amsterdam and can be booked through Trailfinders (tel: 020-7938 3939).

Before you go, why not prepare for your adventure by reading up on Kilimanjaro in the Lonely Planet Guide to Tanzania (£11.99).

Post-exam holiday A group of between four and six of my friends are planning to go away on a relaxing post A-level break at the beginning of July. While we would like somewhere warm and by the sea, we have been unable to find anywhere that looks different from the Ibiza scene. We are each prepared to spend around £500 and would like accommodation in an apartment or hotel. Can you suggest any places where we might avoid the crowds of other drunk, sunburnt 18-year-olds? James Crawforth by e-mail

Phil Haines replies: An alternative to booking a package is to buy a flight only to an interesting European city that has nearby beaches, buy a guidebook and then book your accommodation via the tourist office or through the Youth Hostel Association.

Lisbon has a choice of beaches a bus ride away: busy Cascais and Estoril or the laid-back Costa de Capabrica. Call Portugal's tourism office (tel: 020-7494 1441). Barcelona has plenty of arts and culture and an extensive, though expensive, nightlife. Contact the Spanish tourist office (tel: 020-7486 8077).

Naples is surrounded by romantic resorts (Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and the islands of Capri and Ischia), Roman sites (Pompeii and Herculaneum) and the volcano Vesuvius. Try the Italian state tourist board (tel: 020-7408 1254).

The impressive medieval fortified city of Dubrovnik and the Croatian coast is popular for its combination of cultural and natural possibilities. Call the helpful Croatian national tourist office (tel: 020-8563 7979).

Istanbul has many beaches and antiquities on its Aegean coast. Visit the archaeological site at Ephesus en route to the beaches of Dalyan and Patara. Contact the Turkish tourist office (tel: 020-7629 7771). Tourist offices offer a wide range of accommodation.

A youth hostel should cost about £15 per night including breakfast; it is advisable, especially during the summer, to book well in advance. Members can use its International Booking Network (tel: 01629 581418).

Go (tel: 0845 605 4321; net: flies to Barcelona, Lisbon, Naples and Venice. The earlier you book, the better chance you will have of getting a lower fare. EasyJet (tel: 0870 600 0000; net: flies to Barcelona and Palma de Majorca.

If you are still keen to book a package during the peak season you will find it difficult to find any bargains. Alternatives to Ibiza include Majorca (more things to do and without the madness) or Crete (where you can rent a couple of vehicles and discover the island's impressive natural splendours).

Phil Haines, the youngest person to have visited every country in the world, runs a travel company, Live Limited (tel: 020-8737 3725; e-mail:, which "specialises in travel to special places".

Send your questions to: Travel Desk, 'The Independent on Sunday', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or via e-mail at sundaytravel@

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