Where the experts holiday: Omar Beretta, travel writer

Travel writer, Omar Beretta, shares his experiences on the road with JAT readers

What do you like to do on holiday?
I like to go to to places that are not spoilt by Western consumer habits, meet the locals, learn about their music and traditions, and find some quiet space to read and write.

Where did you last go?
I just came back from a month in Lima, Perú where I took notes to write an article about Trans Diversity in Perú. I read books by Peruvian authors that helped me connect with the mood of the city, namely Julio Ramón Ribeyro, probably my all-time favourite writer in the Spanish language, (especially the short stories in La Palabra del Mudo) and Jeremías Gamboa’s Contarlo Todo, destined to be one of the most powerful novels of the twenty firsy century.
I also spent some time in a hamlet called Yarina, near Pucallpa, in the Peruvian Amazon, learning and writing about shamanism. Preparing for Yarina I re-read Castaneda’s Journey to Ixtlan as well as The Yage Letters by Burroughs and Ginsberg. I am writing a series of articles about shamanism in the Peruvian Amazon, the first of them can be found here.

Do you know where you’re going this year?
In 2018 I will travel all year! I will visit Paraguay, Peru, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Cambodia and Brazil.

Of all the places you’ve been to, which was your favourite and why?
Asunción del Paraguay, South America’s best kept secret. Expect very friendly people in the middle of majestic nature, namely the mighty Paraguay river. It’s one of the oldest cities in South America with unspoilt colonial architecture, a rich cultural scene, vibrant night life and expats that never ever want to go back home. Last March I taught a creative writing workshop in Asunción and I wrote about this experience here.

Which destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?

In your own country, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides?
Many years ago, I was hitchhiking in southern Patagonia with a friend and we got stuck in a petrol station in the middle of nowhere, halfway between the towns of Rio Gallegos and Calafate. A truck that was taking goods to a nearby farm took us from Río Gallegos to the petrol station. We had purposefully missed the daily bus from Gallegos because we preferred to hitchhike, and there was no other bus going in that direction until the following day. It was winter. We spent the rest of the day by the road, waiting for a car that never came. There, in the middle of nowhere, we experienced the vast expanse of the Argentine wasteland like never before. We felt the night crawling, a few animals curiously watching us from a distance, and the Milky Way brighter than ever enveloping us. That unknown corner where we spent the night was the most beautiful spot that I have ever seen in Argentina, and yet I could not point it in a map because I do not know exactly where we were. We took the bus to Calafate the next morning. We were going to see the glaciers, the highlight of that trip, but I was sad to leave our petrol station in the middle of nowhere. So I would recommend to take the less known roads and get lost!

How do you plan a holiday?
I still like to own guidebooks whose weight I can feel in my hands, that I can scribble and leave marks on it. I especially like second-hand guidebooks that have notes or drawings from previous travellers. I own a 1925 Baedeker guide to Egypt and the Sudan that belonged to my great Grand Uncle that I enjoy reading from time to time, especially when I come across passages like “travel in Egypt is as safe as in Europe,” advising that “weapons for self-defence are an unnecessary encumbrance.”
I rely very much on advise from other travellers that I know personally, whose blogs I follow, or whose interests I share. Another important source of inspiration are essays and novels. Lost Cosmonaut by Daniel Kalder and most of the work by Colin Thubron encouraged me to travel in Siberia, because they presented the remote in a way that I can relate to. In fact, in our novel Shaman Express, one of the main characters reminisces about a trip he took in Central Asia and says: “Being buried in the anonymity of a remote part of the world proved soothing,” which is a line I wrote in my travelling journal when I was in Kyrgyzstan. The books by Willliam Dalrymple are a mine of information and I brought some of them with me on trips to Western China and India. Bruce Chatwin is always a great source of inspiration for new destinations. The Songlines is probably my favourite because it deals with aboriginal communities, they are my main area of interest now. Claude Lévi-Strauss Tristes Tropiques can be read as an adventure novel and a must read for anyone going to the Amazon. Last but no least, Nicolas Bouvier’s L’Usage du Monde (The Way of the World) is my favourite travel book and a great influence when I hesitate about going away.

How often do you go away?
As often as I can. In 2017 I realised that I had gone away so many times, that I would have saved money on air tickets if I had not came back home to Buenos Aires after each trip. So I sold everything, including my books: I put up my house for sale and I decided to take one long trip during 2018.

Who do you travel with?
Alone, almost always alone. Traveling alone gives me all the room I need to read and write. However, I have friends in most of the destinations I travel to. For example, as I write these answers, I am sitting at the terrace of the house of an old friend in Catania, Sicily with fresh coffee and a fantastic view of the Etna volcano. We just came back from nearby Noto, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where we spent the weekend with friends. He will join me in the evening when he finishes work and, together with other friends, we will go a Pink Floyd event with live music in a nearby country house. Early next month another friend that plays in the band Gabacho Maroc has invited me to go on tour with them in the South of Spain, where I plan to write an article about fusion of Western and Middle-Eastern music, a topic that I am very interested into. So I travel alone, but I get to spend a lot of time in excellent company.

Where do you see tourism in your country, in 10 years?
Thriving. Argentina has fantastic travel potential and it is a safe and friendly place to be: I can see a large increase of visitors in the next ten years. So pack your backpack and come visit soon, before it gets too crowded!

Omar Beretta is the co-author with Bénédicte Rousseau of Shaman Express . A former lawyer, yoga instructor and publishing company owner who – after a near-death experience – left his corporate career to practice yoga and shamanism, Beretta is now a full-time world traveller. He learns from people living in countries not yet fully spoilt by Western capitalism as well as indigenous communities.Beretta teaches creative writing workshops in Asunción del Paraguay. For more information, see

About Shaman Express by Bénédicte Rousseau and Omar Beretta (31 May 2018; paperback £9.99; I eBook £3.99; Amazon)
Although they barely know each other, a depressed divorcee and a recovering addict – both at a crossroads in their lives – decide to embark together on a journey with the intention of writing a book on experiential shamanism. But spiritual retreats and self-help books haven’t prepared them for what lies ahead.  Moving between pastoral Italy, the rugged steppes of Siberia, and the crowded streets of Thailand, the story alternates between ordinary reality and shamanic non-ordinary reality, the borders of which become blurred along the way.  They may not find what they thought they sought, but they will be forever transformed. 

Neymar touches down in Dubai

Barcelona star, Neymar, has landed in Dubai amid speculation that he will complete a world-record €222 million (£199m) move to Paris Saint-Germain by the end of this week.

The unsettled football ace posted pictures of himself enjoying lunch in the dazzling desert kingdom, on Instagram.

This comes following reports that the forward is due to fly to Qatar later today so as to discuss the impending move with Paris Saint-Germain’s Qatari owners - and to undergo a medical at the Aspire Academy.

Neymar is said to want to leave the Catalan giants - despite winning eight major trophies during his time with the seaside club AND the intervention of senior Barcelona players such as Gerard Piqué and Andres Iniesta, both of whom have attempted to persuade the world’s best footballer to stay in Spain.

Yet while the furore over whether Neymar will remain at or leave the Camp Nou continues to swell, the man at the centre of the storm seemed unconcerned. The 25- year-old Brazilian looked relaxed and happy with close companions including Jo Amancio and Alvaro Costa in his Dubai social media footage, while singing the lyrics to Thiaguinho's Energia Surreal.

Neymar is not the only one to have taken a shine to Dubai. World Travel Award – dubbed the Oscars of the travel industry by the Wall Street Journal – has selected the former fishing village to its Middle East Gala Ceremony ( on the 31 October 2017, at Armani Hotel Dubai.

This will be the second time that World Travel Awards –  the travel industry’s leading awards programme -  has visited Armani Hotel Dubai, following a glittery ceremony back in 2011.


View the post here:

How Colombia got its groove back

Colombia has finally shaken off its shady reputation and swapped its troubles for tourism. TNT shows you the way to go

Colombia has long been synonymous with trouble and tragedy. For the past few decades, the South American country has been affected by cocaine cartels, corruption and civil war but, fast forward to December 2016, and Colombia - an intoxicating mix of South America with a shot of the Caribbean - is finally back on the travel map following the signing of a peace deal between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) rebels ending what was the longest-running war in the Western Hemisphere.

Need proof that Colombia is a hot ticket? Look to Lonely Planet. The travel bible has hailed Colombia the second best country (behind Canada) to visit in 2017. And for good reason for, while the media may have focused on the fracas and fighting in recent years, there is more - so much more - to Colombia than the legacy of drug lord Pablo Escobar and civil war.  

Today Colombia is as safe as any South American destination, accessible (in only two weeks you can revel in an overload of experiences from pristine Caribbean beaches to lush rainforests, Insta-perfect colonial towns, world class coffee plantations), utterly invigorating and full of friendly locals who will extend a welcome as warm as the weather to help you.

Better still, your budget will go a long way here - Colombia is remarkably cheap when compared to many of its South American cousins - even in Bogota, the capital city.


Speaking of which, Bogota typically serves as the entry point to Colombia. Often called the Athens of South America, Bogota will - quite literally - take your breath away perched as it is at 2,600m. Translation? Altitude sickness can (and will) occur…

Bogota’s biggest draw is arguably the impressive Museo del Oro ( One of the most famous and fascinating museums in South America, it’s home to the largest collection of pre-Colombian gold artefacts in the world. More than 55,000 pieces of gold are laid out over three floors while English and Spanish language descriptions tell the story of these objects through the eyes of those who created them.


Another mustn’t miss museum is the Museo Historic Policia ( - gringos (foreigners) and rolos (residents) alike are not only able to see inside the former headquarters of Bogota’s police force, but are also able to get up close and personal with local guides who are serving a one year compulsory service with the police. All of which means you’ll leave with lots of lively tales with which to regale your mates with, when back home in Blighty…


When you’ve had your fill of museums, make a beeline for the bohemian neighbourhood of La Candelaria –  whose charming, salsa sound-tracked cobblestoned streets are lined with quaint cafes, tea houses and theatres straight from the pages of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. La Candelaria – a fantastic example of colonial architecture in Latin America - is also where the lion’s share of Bogota’s budget accommodation is clustered. Recommended hostels include Masaya Bogota Hostel ( and La Pinta (


Need a break from the hustle and bustle of Bogota? Escape to the 3,150m Cerro de Monserrate ( More than just a mountain, it’s a symbol of pride for rolos owing to its gorgeous views of the capital. You can reach the summit via funicular railway, cable car or by climbing the 1,500 steps to the top - just don’t forget your jumper as it gets cold at the apex – even in the height of summer.



Alternatively seek out the Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral ( Situated approx 50km north of Bogota, it’s one of the wonders of South America consisting, as it does, of an immaculately preserved collection of tunnels, chambers, stalactites and cascadas – all carved, somewhat incredibly, out of salt.


Back in Bogota proper, head to Andres Carne de Res ( for a dinner you’re unlikely to forget. This-legendary 2.76 miles square steak-house can accommodate up to 2,000 of Bogota’s movers and shakers who flock here to take advantage of the 19 page menu before dancing on tables to vallenato (Colombian accordion music). Then strut yourself in a salsa club - preferably in La Zona Rosa, Bogota’s hottest, hippest, drinking and destination. And if you’re dancing skills resemble those of Strictly 2016 contestant, Ed Balls, put the panic on hold… simply neck some aguardiente (an anise flavoured local spirit) and you’ll soon find yourself shimmying like Shakira…..


When you get bored of Bogota, pop to Pereira - the gateway to the spectacular Valle de Cocora. Famed for its palma de cera (wax palm), Valle de Cocora is all dramatic green mountains and pretty fields, which comes as a relief after the bright city lights off Bogota. Make no mistake: there’s not much to do in Valle de Cocora - often described as a tropical version of Switzerland - but then that’s the appeal of the place….


From Pereira it’s also possible to tour a Colombian coffee plantation for Peraira is located in the foothills of the Andes - aka Colombia’s celebrated coffee-zone. (Colombia is the world’s third biggest exporter of coffee). A tour of a Colombian coffee plantation should feature on every traveller’s itinerary and TNT can recommend Finca Don Eduardo ( English tours take place every morning at 9am with Tim – an amiable Englishman who swapped the grey shores of the UK for colourful Colombia 15 years ago - and give an insight into the various stages of the coffee production process, as well as providing an opportunity to taste no fewer than four varietals of coffee (called tinto): Arabico Tipica, Caturra, Variety Colombia and Bourbon.


Then shake off your caffeine jitters by moving onto Medellin - Colombia’s second city - that is most definitely having a moment. Bogota may have more history and Cartagena more romance, but no Colombian city delivers anywhere near as much fun as Medellin. Make no mistake: partying is paramount to the paisas (Medellin residents) who can be found cutting loose in El Poblado - a buzzing barrio packed full of hedonistic bars and clubs that are mentioned in the same breath as Berlin and Ibiza - on any given night.

Partied out? Push onto Cartagena. Here horse drawn carriages, cobbled alleys, flower bedecked balconies (a prize is awarded every year for the most beautiful balcony) pretty plazas and statues (saluting the heroes who helped defend Catargena against British and French colonialists, pirates and ultimately from Spain) come as standard. It’s the perfect place from which to salute the sun and, over a Mojito or too, start planning your return…


For essentially Colombia is what a holiday should be - exotic but manageable – much more so than Latin American giants like Brazil, Peru and Argentina. The country is made even more inviting by its people who are happy to share their world with you, having triumphed over adversity…

Our message? Cast aside any preconceptions you may have, pack the t-shirt and sunnies and get going:  there’s no better place to start the New Year than colourful Colombia…


Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

All night long

As of tonight, London will become one of a handful of world cities to offer a 24 hour weekend tube service – and here at JAT headquarters we couldn’t be happier for the colourful, cosmopolitan capital is no Cinderella. London doesn't shit down when the clock strikes midnight so we've never understood why the tube does.  Yes we have had late night services in London before on New Years’ Eve, but nothing on a regular basis.

True the long awaited night tube isn’t perfect: it will only run on Friday and Saturday nights and on the Central and Victoria lines (to be followed by the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Northern in the autumn).

Still while we’d like to see the night tube extended to the suburbs on all lines – including the much maligned Metropolitan – every single day of the week, it’s nonetheless a welcome start. And it means that locals and visitors alike will no longer need to endure a mad dash across town to catch the last tube, a long journey on a battered, beer soaked night bus or an expensive cab ride home. Huzzah!

Ready to discover London in the early hours? Here’s the low-down on a few of our favourite summer late night hang outs…


Aqua Spirit
When the sun shines, Aqua Spirit – a stunning Regent Street rooftop terrace – is our destination of choice. This is partly for the fabulous views of the Soho skyline and partly because of Aqua Spirit’s killer cocktails. The Carrabbas – Santa Teresa rum, fruit liqueurs, fresh orange juice and cinnamon syrup – is the bijoux bar’s best seller but in such stunning surroundings, it seems a shame not to sip a champagne cocktail.
Fifth floor, 240 Regent Street, W1, Open until 1am Mon-Sat

Bar Italia
Alternatively if you’re tee total, make a beeline for Bar Italia. Coffee bars come and coffee bars go, but this little gem opposite Ronnie Scott’s is a Soho institution that has witnessed many fascinating glimpses of passing theatrical life. Make no mistake: Bar Italia is as loved for the stories it could tell, as it is for its authentic Italian coffee. The cakes are also heavenly, so ditch the bikini diet and give into temptation… After all, life’s too short to exist solely on salads this summer.
22 Frith Street, Soho, West End, London, W1,, Open daily until 5am

SushiSamba has been making waves in London ever since it opened in summer 2012. Situated at the summit of Heron Tower, SushiSamba boasts the highest outdoor terraces in London. Drinks – at £11-£12 a pop plus 15 per cent service charge – are on the steep side however, the views of next door neighbour, The Gherkin, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Thames, more than compensate and help makeSushiSamba a serious destination bar.
Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, EC2N 4AY, Open until 2am

Beigel Bake
Of course all that drinking, will make you hungry. If you can’t afford to sup at SushiSamba (you’ll need to boast the budget of a banker), wander around the corner to the aptly name Beigel Bake which serves bagels, bagels and yes, you’ve guessed it, more bagels. This Brick Lane legend is open 24/7, making it handy for very late sorties.
150 Brick Lane, E1, Open 24/7

The Cuban

Cuba is a recurring theme these days. If you fancy getting in on the revolution, try The Cuban. Drinks are reasonably priced as opposed to cheap nut they do serve a mean mojito and a comprehensive list of cocktails including a 15 year old versions of Havana Club rum. For cheap drinks, visit during happy hour (4-7pm Mon-Fri). You can also sign up for salsa lessons or, on Friday and Saturday nights, body bop until you drop to live Cuban bands and DJs.
Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road, NW1, Open until 2am

Bunga Bunga
Bunga Bunga is worth schlepping south of the river for. This tongue-in-cheek bar Battersea based, Italian themed bar serves top notch cocktails and cuisine in a colourful space dedicated to Italy’s finest icons, along with a huge helping of fun: in honour of the Rio Olympics, Bunga Bunga has transformed itself into Brazilian hub. Expect to find an Olympic-themed pop-up decked out with the flags of Brazil, palm trees, banana leaves, beach balls, exotic flowers and lounge chairs, a Caipirinha bar and sultry Samba dancers…
37 Battersea Bridge Road, SW1, Open until 1.30am Mon-Thu; 2.30am Fri & Sat

Kensington Roof Gardens

Originally designed in the 1930s, Kensington Roof Gardens compromises three beautifully themed gardens – the Spanish, Tudor and England Woodland – spanning across 1.5 acres and located 100ft above Kensington High Street. Arranged around the central Clubhouse, the gardens house over 70 full sized trees and a flowing stream with fish and wildlife – including four famous pink flamingos! (Yes really).
99 Kensington High Street, W8 5SA. Access to the building is via Derry Street. Open until 12 midnight Mon-Thu; 2am Fri & Sat

Spotlight on Uruguay, South America's little hidden gem

Long overshadowed by its giant neighbours, Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is finally getting the attention it deserves says Kaye Holland

The eyes of the world will be on Brazil (the host of the 2016 Olympic Games) and Argentina (the land of gauchos and glaciers will be celebrating 206 years of independence on 9 July) this summer.

However there is another Latin American destination that  is beginning to dominate travel wish lists. Say hello to Uruguay (easier to pronounce than it is to spell) which has been dubbed the ‘Switzerland of America’ owing to its economic and political stability in a region not known for either.

Uruguay may be the second smallest country (after Suriname) in South America, but it has a charm, energy and style all of its own meaning a trip here is fully warranted in its own right.

Chances are Colonia del Sacramento - a characterful UNESCO world heritage listed town that’s resistant to bright lights and late nights - will be your first introduction to little Uruguay.  There’s not much to keep you here for longer than a couple of days but, if you’re getting over jet lag, then peaceful Colonia del Sacramento is the perfect spot in which to do so. For while Colonia is on the tourist trail, it’s not packed with visitors (unless you foolish enough to go at the weekend) and consequently you’ll never feel as though you are a trudging a well worn path.


On arrival, chances are you’ll feel as though a veritable time machine has transported you to the past: Colonia is all cobblestone streets and aesthetically pleasing plazas (with which to impress your Instagram followers) – making it one of those rare places that looks stunning at any time of year.

The best thing to do, is to explore Colonia del Sacramento’s winding streets on foot, sniffing out its nooks and crannies and enjoying its picture perfect street life. Then retreat to a cosy cafe or restaurant to read the papers.

For a tiny town, Colonia hums with places to eat but I can vouch for Lentas Maravillas. The menu won’t set your pulse racing, but this Santa Rita restaurant is a reliable choice for the freshest fish you’ll ever eat. But be warned: prices – as for all restaurants in Colonia del Sacramento – are surprisingly high.

From Colonia, I moved onto Montevideo - thenation’s capital and home to nearly half of Uruguay’s population. Often referred to as Buenos Aires’ little sister (it shares the same urban attractions but is smaller and more laid back than BA), Montevideo is a prime target for cruise shippers. Boats dock here on a seemingly daily basis and tourists disembark and descend on Montevideo in their droves to eat asado (Uruguayans do barbecue even better than the Brazilians and Argentines) at Mercado del puerto - a gorgeous 19th century wrought iron market hall that’s packed with parillas (steak houses). Or to pick an antique trinket or two from Plaza Matriz - a leafy square that was once the heart of colonial Montevideo and today hosts a superb Saturday flea market.


Montevideo also puts on a big party for Carnival. Sure it’s not quite up there with Rio (South America’s carnival capital), but colourful parades take place constantly throughout February as the city cuts loose.


I was in town the final weekend of February and subsequently was lucky enough to experience the end of carnival. Yet no matter when you visit, you could happily spend 48 hours in Montevideo admiring the 19th century neo classical buildings and hopping between museums, meals at old school restaurants such as Bar Hispania, strolling along the seafront and catching a show at Theatre Solis.


However the real reason that I hopped over to Uruguay from Argentina, was for a bit of beach action. Argentina may boast South America’s highest peak (step forward Cerro Aconcagua), best beef, widest avenue (hello 9 de Julio) and most exhilarating city (take a bow Buenos Aires), but it isn’t blessed with beautiful beaches. Uruguay’s coast line, on the other hand, is dotted with Persil-white sand, sapphire-blue water and the smell of asado (Latin American barbecues) in the air.

An easy two hour bus ride east of Montevideo brings you to Punta del Este whose most famous attraction is La Mano (or the hand in the sand to give it, it’s English name). Created by Chilean artist, Mario Irarrazabal, for a 1982 art contest, La Mano is typically surrounded by tourists posing for pictures in front of its colossal digits.


Punta del Este is shamelessly glitzy city where where star sightings (Colombian singer Shakira, Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, supermodel Naomi Cambell and actor Antonion Banderas have all been spotted in the Miami of South America) are ubiquitous. You’ll find the ultra chic crowd soaking up the sun on a lounger or lunching at the Harbour Club - home to more yachts than you can shake a bombilla (the silver straw Uruguayans use to drink their beloved mate) at.


It’s a fun place to top up the tan with the stylish set by day and party hop by night but I couldn’t help but feel as though I was still in Buenos Aires. When I visited in late February (aka the end of summer), the Uruguayan Riviera was over run with wealthy, well heeled Portenos all of whom had a penchant for calling Punta del Esta a suburb of Buenos Aires - something that didn’t go down well with the proud locals!

And so in search of a more authentic Uruguay, I pushed onto Punta del Diablo -  a former fishing village, about 175km from flashy Punta del Este, where empty beaches and wild sand dunes abound and the focus is not on nightlife but on the waves.


As such Punta del Diablo attracts a more bohemian crowd like Charlie, a 20 something British backpacker who pitched up for four days… and never left. Charlie now works at El Diablo Tranquilo (one of Punta’s pioneer hostels) in between catching waves and toasting the sunsets with a glass or two of tannat (Uruguay’s loveliest wine) or maybe marijuana (it’s produced and sold legally in Uruguay so expect to catch wafts everywhere you wander) around bonfires.


I joined Charlie and his comrades but only for a little while as I had an early start the next day - I’m was off to Santa Teresa national park. Situated in the top corner of Uruguay, just a stone’s throw from the border with Brazil, Santa Teresa is 200 acres of park land and hiking trails that led to some of the prettiest beaches I had ever seen.

After a day spent tramping in Santa Teresa, I returned to Punta del Diablo wowed, if hungry, and wandered into a no name hole in the wall shack where I ordered a chivito -  a monster of a cheese and steak sandwich that is one of Uruguay’s culinary calling cards. Given the early hour (it’s 7pm and Uruguayans, like their Argentine neighbours, eat late) I was the only customer and greeted like royalty. Forget Luis Suarez (the Uruguayan footballer who has a habit of taking chunks out of his rivals), hospitality is a national obsession and open armed locals will welcome you like family wherever you go.

Stomach full, I collapsed in a hammock on the terrace of El Diablo Tranquilo’s beach bar. With a book in one hand and a sunset cocktail in the other, I concluded that Uruguay may be small in stature compared to its cousins but it deserves its spot on any South American travel itinerary.

Don’t wait, go now: there’s no time like the present…

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland