Friday, April 19, 2024

REVIEWED: Lonely Planet Southwest USA guidebook

Weighty, meaty and hugely readable, here’s a guidebook that can be treasured long after the trip is over

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Despite the onset of the internet, apps and digital books, the Lonely Planet guide’s stubbornly refuse to change much. Packed with insight and with plenty inside to read on long journeys, it’s still the only guidebook you need.

New layout

Where’s the shiny map on the inside cover? Once an obvious, easy reference feature, it’s gone, replaced by a paper map three pages in. We mourn its passing. Once you’re on the ground, there’s exhaustive choices; tiny Flagstaff, our first destination, had 12 hotels and 11 places to eat over eight pages. Impressive. The author’s ‘Top Choice’ was spot-on, too; The Inn at 410, just three blocks from the centre of town, proved an awesome choice with great breakfasts – as mentioned in the Lonely Planet (ask for the stunning Observatory Suite, then the waffles).

If you like …

Elsewhere the refreshed layout is great, with a well-written and carefully curated ‘Top 25 Experiences’ at the front to help you plan your trip pre-flight. Ditto the month-by-month guide to festivals and events, while the ‘If you like …’ treatment contains lots of surprises and specifics. As well as suggested activities for hikers and those into film locations, it includes info for those who love green chiles, microbreweries and art. Well, two out of three ain’t bad.


There’s something about travel that makes technology both utterly perfect, and completely unwanted. Expensive noise-cancelling headphones? Brilliant. Kindle? Even better. But who wants to walk down Route 66 holding a Kindle while searching for place to eat? Nobody – and that’s why the LP still exists. At almost 600 pages, measuring 20x13x2.5cm and weighing 455g, this edition is almost too big for walking around towns. However, it has enough decent maps for doing just that and, besides, if it was smaller, there wouldn’t be much point in taking anywhere.

History lessons

Kudos goes to the LP team for retaining the most important feature; the blue boxouts that contain enough info on history, culture and language – some of it very specific – to keep any traveller happy. It’s this valuable insight that other guidebooks just don’t have. The section on history, culture, food, art and geology at the back are just as handy; we were able to give ourselves a thorough lesson in rock strata while gaping at the Grand Canyon. Who needs a Kindle?

App or book?

Of course, the publishers could put the whole darn thing into an app, but there are two problems with that approach. The first is that there’s absolutely no way that all the information in the book would fit into an app; Lonely Planet apps do exist for various global cities, but have you ever downloaded one? They, like most travel apps outside of offline map apps, just aren’t as quick and easy to use as the books. However, there is another, basic reason why the Lonely Planet series continues. When you’ve got-away-from-it-all and are in the throes of an adventure, nobody wants to stare at a smartphone.

Price as reviewed: £15.99

Buy the Lonely Planet Southwest USA guidebook