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Lonely Planet's Laura Lindsay answers your travel queries.

Q. Even though summer is coming I’m already excited about winter, having heard that 2012 is perfect for spotting the aurora borealis. Where and when should I head for the best chance to see it? I’ve already failed in Iceland twice.
Anna Ptaszynska, via email

A. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for seeing the northern lights. However, you are right that 2012 is a great year to spot the aurora borealis, so now is a better time than ever to take a trip to the Arctic Circle.

Northern Norway is at the centre of the northern lights zone. Tromsø has frequent sightings between the end of November and March, and is also a great location to base yourself, as the city has things going on even in the darkest depths of winter. I would recommend opting for a few days in accommodation outside the city, away from light pollution. This will help ensure that, if you do spot the lights, you’ll have the best view. It is also wise to plan in a few activities unrelated to the lights in case you are really unlucky and fail to see them again. The incredibly popular Hurtigruten cruise stops in Trosmø.

Alternatively, Rovaniemi in northern Finland is a great spot for a winter break. It’s also claimed to be the home of Santa Claus, complete with grotto and post office! You can’t reach Rovaniemi direct from the UK, but you can fly via Helsinki from Heathrow with Finnair. Or fly into Helsinki and hop on the overnight train.

 

Q. I’m planning to travel to Madagascar.Besides the popular north of the island, how difficult is it to explore central and southern Madagascar using public transport? I’m keen to include the Baobab Valley region, karst landscape and lemurs
in their natural habitat. Ross, via email

A. Getting around Madagascar by public transport is not impossible, but it is time consuming. Public transport comes in the form of bush taxis (taxi-brousse), which are cheap, but also slow and unreliable. This generic term applies to any vehicle providing public transport, so you could be climbing into anything from a Peugeot to a 4WD. Passenger trains are few and far between, but worth considering if you plan to travel on any of the major routes.

One solution is to hire a car and driver. It will cost you about £30 per day, but prices vary and fuel, road tolls etc are often extra. Ensure you agree all of these elements up front. It is wise to shop around. If you are pushed for time, Air Madagascar offers a number of expensive but quicker routes around the island.          

You have highlighted a few of the top picks in the centre and south of the island, but I would also suggest you head to Andavadoaka on the south-west coast to dive the Great Reef here. This coastal resort has limited infrastructure, but fulfils essential tourist needs with beach bungalows and a pizza restaurant. It is a great spot for diving with turtles and reef sharks and learning about marine conservation.

 

Lonely Planet’s Laura Lindsay will give you the benefit of her infinite wisdom if you email a question to traveltips@tntmagazine.com. If your  question is answered, you’ll win a Lonely Planet guide of your choice.

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Lonely Planet expert travel advice: finding the aurora borealis and going off the beaten track in Madagascar
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