Albania is Jim’s top pick of the places we visited last year. We took a great little road trip to some fantastic places and it just surprised us how warm and friendly the people were as well as how much there is to see packed in this small country. Â If you haven’t been, make plans to go.
Last weekÂ we published some epic places to go in our Part 1 of Top Travelers Best Destinations, and this week we have even more.Â
by Alesha and Jarryd of Nomadasaurus
Kyrgyzstan is one of our favourite countries in the world, and after 3 visits there in 2015 we couldn’t wait to get back! Central Asia is already off the beaten path, but when we got back there this year couldn’t wait to find somewhere that few people had ever been before. When we heard about the beautiful Jyrgalan region in the east we had to get there!
Trekking in JyrgalanÂ has just opened up to foreigners this year, and we were lucky enough to be amongst the first to ever visit, camping high in the mountains and visiting alpine lakes that few had ever laid eyes. We passed nomadic shepherds, traversed jagged ridges, drank water straight from glacial rivers and braved the elements in the below-freezing evenings. After 58 km and three days of glorious hiking we made it out of the mountains and celebrated the accomplishment of one of our best travel experiences of the entire year!
Komodo Island, Indonesia
by Nat of LoveandRoad
It’s hard to choose the best experience I had in 2016, the year was packed with beautiful destinations and adventures. But Komodo Island in Indonesia has a special place in my heart. I went there to see the famous Komodo Dragon, the largest species of living lizard in the world, but ended up falling in love with the whole place. The Komodo National Park is formed by 29 islands, and they are stunning, from the top of the mountains to the bottom of the sea. The views, the wildlife, the water activities and the dragons, everything is so stunning and unique. It’s not an easy destination, a trip to Komodo Islands demands a good planning and adventurous spirit, but once you are there you realize that all the planning, all the hours flying and the boat rides are worth it. If you travel to the Komodo National Park don’t forget to go to Padar Island and do the trekking to the viewpoint, and when in Komodo Island a stop at the Pink Beach is a must. It’s not every day that you can walk and swim in a beach with pink sand.
by Dean of La Vida Global
You often read about Cusco being little more than a place to start your Machu Picchu adventure but spend some time here and you will find so much more.
The food is cheap, plentiful and full of flavour. The markets full of life and a treat for your senses, with vibrant colour, the sounds of daily life and the taste and smells of local delicacies being lovingly prepared and devoured.
If history is your passion then sink your teeth into centuries of Incan, Pre-Columbian and Spanish buildings and artifacts. Every street, every building, this is a place where history is living day to day.
What’s not to love about a place where there is no need to rush, the people are friendly, and every new street you find offers a new discovery. Cusco is so much more than just a place to pass through.
Halong Bay, Vietnam
by Daryl and Mindi of 2 Food Trippers
After a year of travel, Vietnam’s Halong Bay stands out as one of our favorite destinations. Located just four hours from frenetic Hanoi, Halong Bay offers a welcome counterbalance with its thousands of karst formations jutting out of the Gulf of Tonkin. There’s plenty to do at this UNESCO site for those who like to hike and kayak. However, we chose to spend most of our time relaxing on a luxury junk boat where we had a front row view of the miniature grassy islands. As an extra bonus, sunsets at Halong Bay are extraordinary. Magical and mystical, Halong Bay is a unique place to visit and one that we will long remember.
by Margherita of The Crowded Planet
One of my favourite destinations in 2016 was definitely Bohol, a beautiful island in the Philippines. The reason why I liked it so much is that it’s not all about the beach – there are plenty of nature-relatedÂ things to do in Bohol, such as visiting a tarsier rescue center (where I met the cutie in the picture!) or seeing the Chocolate Hills, one of Bohol’s iconic sights. Naturally, if beach is what you’re after, you won’t be disappointed. Panglao is a tiny island connected with Bohol by a bridge and it boasts some stunning beaches, plus there are smaller and even more beautiful islands like Kalimggaman a short boat ride away. We spent three nights at Bohol Beach Club and loved it – definitely a great choice if you want to pamper yourself a bit!
by Mar of Once in a Lifetime Journey
The landlocked country of Bhutan, also known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon or The Kingdom in the Clouds, is a beautiful and deeply spiritual destination. I went there in search of peace and stunning landscapes and I found kindness, optimism and the beauty of untouched nature.
Bhutan is a place of unusual elements, from the phalluses painted on people’s houses to the ever-present national dress or the dramatic roads, and one that has the power to change you.
Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany
by Laura of Savored Journeys
We’ve always wanted to go to the real Oktoberfest that takes place in Munich, Germany, every September, so we decided to go in 2016. The experience far exceeded our expectations, and after hearing so many stories from people who had already been, those expectations were rather high. We were able to float around to most of the main beer tents to see what the atmosphere was like and take pictures of the larger-than-life decor. And when we’d had as many liters of Oktoberfest beer as we could drink, we spent time walking around the carnival that was taking place outside the tents. The festival is massive, but it’s still easy to navigate and doesn’t feel outlandishly crowded. The best part was the merriment and sense of tradition that was felt everywhere, even outside of the Oktoberfest grounds in other parts of Munich.
Nongriat, Meghalaya, India
by Jo of Wander with Jo
Being an Indian, I always felt I could explore more of my own motherland down the line and I need to visit far-off lands first.I am so glad I took these last few months of 2016 to see more of Incredible India and it truly is so very incredible. One of my favorite destinations was Meghalaya in north – east India.Â
With greenery and scenic views all around it was hard to not love this state. The highlight was a 6000 step hike to the double decker bridge (Around 6km back n forth) in the village of Nongriat. This was bang in the middle of the jungles and felt like an exact replica from the movie “Journey to the center of the earth”. Exotic velvety wings fluttered all around with trees, streams and epic views whichever direction you looked in – I finally found paradise, in my own country and it was the most rewarding experience of 2016 for me.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
by Gemma and Craig of Two Scots Abroad
Did you know that there is an abandoned bobsled track in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital, Sarajevo? The bobsled track was used in the 1984 Winter Olympics, before the horrific war in the 90s. Nowadays, the track is a canvas for local graffiti artists, not the best street art I’ve seen but still a surreal thing to look at. Another cool thing to do in Sarajevo is to hike to the bobsled track (there is a bus route for the less active). If you do choose to trek to the track, you walk up Mount TrebeviÄ‡ which offers (in my opinion) the best views of Sarajevo which sits within the valley.
by Inma of A World to Travel
After traveling to a dozen countries this year, we are still in awe with Jordan, our 2016 highlight so far. From Amman, its capital to the vast Wadi Rum desert, Jerash and the always stunning Petra, if you are wondering if this country is for you we urge you to uncover theÂ 40 photos that will make you want to visit JordanÂ too.
by Shara of SKJ Travel
I’ve been on safari in several countries, but 2016 brought me to Botswana for the first time. Circumstances for me were such that I needed to be in Africa during what’s considered the off-season for wildlife viewing in southern Africa — the rainy season, or “green” season, as it’s referred to in the Kalahari region. I chose the Kalahari partially because it’s a little off the beaten path for Botswana safari-goers (figuring a trip to the Okavango would be in my future), and kept my expectations low. But I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. The trip was worth it just to erase my notions of the Kalahari as nothing but a barren, desolate landscape. Instead, in this season it was positivelyÂ lush with multiple shades of green, and carpeted in yellow and white flowers. The big dome of sky was wonderfully dynamic with passing rainÂ clouds. There were very few other tourists, so most of the time I had the elephants and lions and cheetahs, the oryx and zebras, the birds and gangs of utterly adorable bat-eared foxes all to myself and my guide. Hard to beat that!
by Danielle of Like Riding a Bicycle
My very favourite place on earth is a small beach town called Zipolite, in the Oaxaca state of Mexico. The entire town is right on the beach, secret cove of a beach included. For bonus points, the beach is all clothing optional – a rarity in Mexico – so the place attracts a very open minded crowd. I spend my days lazing away in a hammock as I watch the waves crash in, waking up early in my tent to a perfect ocean view. Local vendors sell freshly squeezed orange juice and freshly opened coconuts. It is truly my heaven on earth.
by Dave of Jones Around the World
One of the most memorable travel experiences of this past year has to be my time road-tripping through Montenegro.Â To be perfectly honest, I did zero research on what there was to see in the country, so I was going into the experience with zero expectations.Â I’m actually really glad I did it that way, because I was completely blown away by the beautiful scenery found in Montenegro.
The Bay of Kotor was simply gorgeous, and driving around it provided me with some stunning photographs!Â It was during the summertime, so taking a quick dip in the water was very refreshing as well!Â But the real highlight of this trip was when we made the journey up to Durmitor National Park!Â I had no idea that this type of landscape can be found in The Balkans, and I’m so glad we decided to rent the car to drive through this mountain range.Â It was an experience I’ll never forget, and would strongly recommend to everyone looking for some fresh mountain air!
Ourika Valley, Morocco
by Heather of Conversant Traveller
The Ourika Valley is only 45 minutes out of Marrakech, yet feels a million miles from the bustle of the chaotic red city. Nestled in the foothills of the majestic High Atlas Mountains, the Ourika Valley is home to saffron farms, organic gardens and Berber markets. It’s also home to THE best infinity pool we’ve ever seen, and it was all ours for a few days! The Kasbah Bab Ourika perches loftily on a hilltop as if guarding the mountain pass above. We felt like royalty in our private pool suite, gazing down on the river snaking through the valley below. By day it was all about cooling off in the pool, eating sizzling tagines and exploring local villages. At night out came the flickering candles, the croaking chorus of frogs and the scent of jasmine on the evening breeze. We’ve been to some fabulous locations on our travels, but this room with a view was definitely something rather special.
Â Kaua’i, Hawaii, USA
by Paige of For the Love of Wanderlust
This summer I found myself honeymooning on the island of Kaua’i. The Garden Isle is the perfect place for everyone. Great food, beautiful beaches and nature galore. Being a nature-lover meant that my husband and I were going to be doing loads of hiking. My favorite hike was along the Na Pali Coast. It’s a very famous hike because it’s the only way into the Na Pali other than boating in or flying through in a helicopter. We hiked 11 miles total along the coast and back into Hanakapi’ai Valley to get a look at the gorgeous Hanakapi’ai Falls. Although that was technically the highlight of the trail, myÂ favorite part was catching glimpses of the dramatic coastline.
by Sofie of Wonderful Wanderings
Bologna was truly a discovery for me in 2016 and a large part of that had to do with the fact that I visited over a weekend. You see, during the weekend, they close off the two main shopping streets to cars and all kinds of street performers show up. We saw drummers, singers and whole bands, but also a parade of flag throwers and even a medieval swords fight!
Aside from that, I loved the great and inexpensive food in this city. As I always do when I go somewhere new, I joined a food tour and learned about all the places the locals go to get the best pasta, cured meat and coffee. The tour ended with some incredible gelato and I can assure you that wasn’t the last gelato I had that trip!
North Wales, UK
by Tilly of Travel Junkie Girl
(The Castles and Town Walls of King Edward I)
By far my favourite travel experience of 2016 was touring round the medieval ruined castles of North Wales in the UK; 4 of which make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward I.
Dramatic coastal ruins reign supreme at Conwy, Beaumaris and Caernarfon and perched atop a hill in Harlech, each jaw-droppingly awesome and unique.
Re-imagining history, you can explore the bloodthirsty past of each castle, climb to the top of many a tower for superb 360 degree views and stride around the city walls still largely complete in Conwy. Beaumaris boasts the most technically perfect castle in Britain with its symmetrical concentric ‘walls within walls’ design.
Exploring the surrounding quaint towns is all part of the charm: touring the gaol in Beaumaris, the smallest house in Britain in Conwy, and finishing the day with some fabulous fish ‘n’ chips while marvelling at the romantic ruins that dominate each location.
As if plucked from a fairytale, keep an eye out for fair maidens trapped in towers and the elusive Welsh dragon that tours the many castles of Wales – but beware, he breathes smoke at regular intervals, so don’t get caught!
by Johann of Escaping Life
It was late 2015 when I met a random trekker from New Zealand in Ladakh, India. He went on to Nepal from India and trekked to the Everest Base Camp that year. His story spurred me to take my bags and the Road to Everest.
After several months of preparing myself, I landed in Kathmandu with a friend. From here on we went through three and half weeks of awe-inspiring adventure through the highest mountains in the world, the Himalayas. The trek starts after flying to one of the world’s most dangerous airports at Lukla. From there on, we trekked to the three high passes of the Khumbu region of Nepal, the Kongma La (5545m/18192ft), the Cho La (5420m/17782ft) and the Renjo La (5340m/17528ft). Mid-way through the trek you reach the base camp of the highest mountain in the world, Mt. Everest. Nothing can compare to the emotions and feeling one goes through at the foot of the mighty mountain. The circuit took us through one of the most serene and tranquil places in world called Gokyo, where the majestic mountains show off their grandeur before returning back down to Lukla and then flying back to Kathmandu.
So imagine yourself waking up one morning to the sight of the tallest mountains in the world and the sun peeking through them. That’s how Nepal gave me my best travel experience of 2016.
by Sonal of Drifter Planet
I’m a Star Wars fan and have always imagined how cool it would be if I ever visited the Planet Tatooine. A few months back, I found a cheaper and more viable solution – Cappadocia. With its unusual volcanic formations, fairy chimneys and underground city, Cappadocia definitely looks like another planet. This stunning paradise in Turkey is one of the most famous summer destination of Europe.Â I had the time of my life when I went for aÂ hot air baloon ride in CappadociaÂ and saw a bird eyes view of this otherworldy destination.
by Tracy of Tracy’s Travels in Time
In 2016 I revisited a country I have been to many times – Italy. This year however I took my niece for her first overseas trip. At the age of 21 she chose Italy as her number one destination. To say she loved it is an understatement. We explored Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan. We took tours and learnt about life in ancient Rome and about the brilliance of Michelangelo. We stared open mouthed at art works so carefully created centuries ago by the most talented artists of all time. We ate pizza, pasta and our weight in gelato. And we admired ruins and cathedrals and statues and took a million photographs. And I learnt to see and appreciate cities visited before through new eyes. An invaluable experience.
by Sharon of Where’s Sharon
Muscat is an absolutely fantastic tourist destination. It is stunning, there’s some nice attractions, the locals are incredibly friendly and it’s like nowhere else I have ever visited. Better yet, there are not many tourists. All of this helps to make it feel like an adventurous destination even though it’s not really adventurous at all.
My favourite part about Muscat are the views everywhere. There are brown rocky mountains, many with forts, and a strict building code which ensures nothing is very tall and all buildings are a white or cream colour. I felt like I was in a postcard every direction that I looked!
I also enjoyed the food, the low key things to do and the welcoming locals made this a very easy place to visit. I went alone with my new baby and had a great time.
by Penny of Adventures of a Carry On
A walled medieval town, Viviers does not get a lot of tourism, nor does it seek tourism. There are only one or two cafes and a pottery shop. The attraction of Viviers is walking its cobblestone streets without fighting a crowd, the architecture, andÂ a friendly cat that played with my scarf as I crouched down to snap photos.
About midway between the lower and upper part of the town I arrived at a very pretty square where I saw this really playful cat. There was a house painted with red shutters and there was a yellow bench – it was colorful! And then this man came out and started trying to tell me in French all about the history and architecture.
Located on the right bank of the Rhone River in southern Ardéche, it is the best preserved medieval town in southern France.Â A marked path will lead you to the old town on the hill where you will see the panoramic view shown in this photograph. It seems a city somewhat frozen in time but you will also find some renovations here and there. Though I didn’t spend more than a couple of hours there, they were some of the most memorable of my time in France.
Christmas Markets of Europe
by Lyn of A Hole in My Shoe
The best place we experienced in 2016 was the Christmas markets of Europe and a Rhine River cruise. We’d previously been to Europe but never experienced Winter or the festive season there. We started in Paris and at that time of the year it was just that little bit more special.Â From Paris we explored Brussels and Amsterdam. In Cologne we saw our first true Christmas markets, little wooden chalets selling festive foods, twinkling lights and some good old Christmas spirit. The smell of roasted chestnuts, warm spicy gluhwein and gingerbread cookies teased our senses at Frankfurt’s markets. The excitement built and we boarded our ship for an amazing Christmas market cruise for four wonderful days of leisurely sailing and visiting markets. We went sightseeing in the Black Forest, visited the red sandstone castle in Heidelberg, and the quaint half-timber houses of Strasbourg and Colmar, before leaving our delightful ship in Basel. Basel’s markets are the largest in Switzerland and we enjoyed the Swiss speciality Raclette, ginger cookies and enough hot Gluhwein to fight off our winter chills. We celebrated a Christmas in Vienna and saw in the New Year in Budapest with more cities and Christmas markets along the way. All we needed was some softly falling snow, but it wasn’t to be. Europe was experiencing their warmest winter in over 80 years. Despite the lack of snow, for a couple of Australians, Europe created a joyous, warm and magical atmosphere that was really something special.
Carmoan Peninsula, Philippines
By Capt. Joe of Best of World Travel
Hidden in the depths of Bicol Region in the Philippines, the Caramoan Peninsula awaits its guests with dozens of yummy sea foods, thousands of creamy white sands as well as stunning and heart warming views.
The peninsula is considered a developing tourist spot in the country, much like a hidden gem of the Philippines that gave us the vibes and experiences of being in El Nido Palawan, Boracay, Zambales, Batangas and Bataan. It was an awesome 2-day trip in the whole Caramoan because of the mixed feelings radiating in the atmosphere, and I think it is one of its unique characters– a full-packed experience in one trip!
While it is unknown to many people, the TV show Survivor series has been using a couple of islands in the peninsula for filming, notably the Sab-ing and Sabitang-Laya. The sands were white and creamy there that our feet were almost drowning as we step on them. It was also fun collecting sea shells while on these islands.
While the shores ware spectacular, the beach themselves were also beautiful. They showed a marvelous crystal-clear waters. There are calm waves to swim by, but there are also extreme waves that might bring your heart into upbeat. We found hundreds of colorful fishes and corals just a few feet from the islands when we snorkeled to the best spots.
We also trekked in one of the islands in Caramoan, the Guinahoan. There, we saw the beauty of the Pacific Ocean and the Philippine Sea, just like a feeling of being in Batanes. After every trip, a banquet of delicious sea foods have always been waiting for us as we return to our hotel.
Wow! So many amazing destinations, and all you have to do is pick one and start planning. Â Don’t forget all the fantastic places we visited in Part I as well.
Well?!? Where will you go in 2017?
Pin Part 2 for later!