Not only is Cuba a photographer’s dream destination but surprisingly, the island holds many adventures as well. Filled with national parks, untouched reefs and thick jungles, Cuba turned out to be our favorite destination in 2016. We spent our mornings and evenings wandering the streets to capture life from behind the camera. During the day we headed off for hiking, horseback riding, snorkeling, diving and exploration of places that are virtually untouched by tourists. Cuba allowed us to disconnect from the digital world, take a step back and revel in the reasons why we love to travel, without the distractions of modern society.
by Leyla of Women on the Road
Since Central Asia opened up to tourism after the fall of the Soviet Union in the late 20th century, travelers have headed across the ancient Silk Road’s countries, uncovering the wonders of mosaics and fortresses dating back 1000 years. Uzbekistan, one of the five so-called “Stans”, is not naturally stunning but its civilization and architecture reflects a sense of symmetry and a love of detail that is so beautiful UNESCO designated its three most ancient city centers – Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand – as World Heritage sites.
All three are worth in-depth exploration but Khiva’s old town stole my heart. The Itchan Kala, as Khiva’s old city is called, is a pedestrian area more akin to an outdoor museum than an actual town. By day it is home to stalls and day-trippers who have flown in from the capital for a few hours. By night, mystery shrouds the town as stalls disappear, lights dim, and the stars are allowed to shine unimpeded, lighting the old cobblestones.
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
By Paula and Gordy of Contented Traveller
It was very difficult to choose our favorite place of 2016 as we have been to some of the most unique places. Raja Ampat or more correctly the Raja Ampat Islands, is an archipelago of over 1000 islands. Raja Ampat is located in the northwest of Indonesia’s West Papua province at the tip of Bird’s Head Peninsula. It is remote, yet an achievable destination with flights from Jakarta. Raja Ampat is one of the largest eco-marine parks in the world, and die-hard divers have discovered it. Because of its remoteness it is also one of the most pristine environments we have had the privilege of visiting.
by Bertraut and Alexis of World Adventurers
We’ve been to some incredible places all over the world this year, but hands down our favorite has been the Maldives, whose gorgeous turquoise waters draw travelers from around the globe. We stayed at the incredible Park Hyatt Maldives on the tiny island Hadahaa, which was truly paradise on Earth. Not only was it the most beautiful resort we’d ever stayed in, but the service was beyond our wildest dreams. We felt like royalty and had the most relaxing vacation in our lives. The snorkeling is beyond comparison since Hadahaa’s reef is one of the best in the Maldives, and has the greatest coral cover in the nation. We swam with reef sharks, sea turtles, an octopus, and fish in every color of the rainbow. We enjoyed some of the most delicious food ever at a romantic private dinner on the beach. We indulged in a Valentine’s Day spa package including a chocolate body wrap, couples massage, and flower petal bath, and watched a movie under the stars while sipping champagne. It was a dream vacation at the top of our bucket list, and we are already planning a return visit because it was just that amazing!
By Natasha and Cameron of the World Pursuit
This past year we traveled to Mozambique and had the most incredible time. We were warned that it may be difficult to travel through, frustrating, and even a little unsafe. We decided that we could not miss it anyway. We ended up spending almost three weeks in the country and completely fell in love. The Mozambicans are warm and friendly and always there to give you a smile. The Mozambican cuisine is quite possibly some of the best in Africa (giant prawns anyone?) The coastline is pristine, quiet, and secluded at all times. We can’t wait to return and would recommend Mozambique to anyone in the future. If you’re looking for the perfect African beach holiday, then head to Mozambique.
By Raksha at Solo Passport
Vanuatu was one of my best travel experiences in 2016. It is an island country in the Pacific Ocean. It is famous for its tropical weather and the beautiful landscapes. The best part of traveling to Vanuatu is witnessing an active volcano. The 4WD vehicles can get close to within 150m of the volcano’s crater rim. Vanuatu has so much to offer – includes swimming with turtles, taking a bath in blue lagoons, zip lining above a gorge, snorkeling and scuba diving in the pristine clear waters, and is also a home for the only underwater working post office.
By Julie at Julie Dawn Fox in Portugal
In the spring of 2016, I walked over 400 km along the two main Portuguese Way of Saint James (Camino de Santiago) pilgrim routes in three separate sessions. The bulk of the journey was the 10-day stretch between the ancient and charming city of Barcelos in Portugal and the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The 200 kilometres (125 miles) between these two cities are filled with forests, valleys, villages and some beautiful historical riverside towns like Ponte de Lima, Valença, Tui and Padrón.
What I loved most about walking through northern Portugal and Galicia was having the freedom to stop and appreciate unusual haystacks, traditional architecture, rural farming practices, hidden waterfalls, fields of spring flowers, the chorus of frogs croaking and the chatter of birdsong. The white alvarinho/albariño wines and delicious seafood went down rather well, too.
Walking an average of 20 km a day, day after day is no mean feat but absolutely worth the effort. It gave me a profound sense of achievement and an experience that affected me more deeply than I could have imagined. My advice is to go in spring, while the weather is warm but not unbearably hot and the wildflowers are in full bloom.
by Sally at Our 3 Kids v the World
This year I had the opportunity to visit Japan, it’s been a long held bucket list item for me, right back to when we had exchange students at my high school. When I finally arrived it was everything and more than I expected. We arrived into Osaka and spent the first night at Dotonburi. Dotonburi is a great introduction to Japan, full of neon and awesome local food. It’s just a matter of which restaurant to choose!
We headed off to Hiroshima for a day trip, start early as its a long day on the bullet train to get there, that is an experience in itself with it hitting speeds of 443kms per hour. The history at Hiroshima is confronting but a perfect way to teach kids some of the recent world mistakes. I think it’s fair to say that Hiroshima is something this world will hopefully never see again.To see how the Japanese have learnt and moved on from this experience and to a certain extent have healed is truly inspirational.
We also managed a short trip over to Miyajima Island, a world listed UNESCO site, famous mostly for the Floating Torii gates. We arrived late in the afternoon and unfortunately the sunset wasn’t great and the tide didn’t come in like I had hoped but it was still exactly what I expected it to be. The island foreshore is an old style Japanese village, absolutely beautiful and full of character. Great place for souvenir and trinket shopping.
Next up was Kyoto, this place blew my mind. The temples and shrines were something else, I could spend a month there and still not seen it all. My favourite was the Fushimi Inari Shrine with the 1000 Red Torii Gates going up the side of a hill. If you manage to to make the 55 min climb to the last look out you will be rewarded with an amazing view over Kyoto. Make sure you get up early to beat the crazy crowds. The Golden Temple, otherwise known as Kinkaku-ji, is a beautiful temple covered in golden leaf. We arrived when it was raining and although this was disappointing it did not take away any of its beauty. Whilst in Kyoto you must have dinner with a Maiko, we were able to organise a tour through Veltra which enabled us to have a photo with the maiko afterwards.
By Evan at Pretty Wild World
This year has been full of travel memories and apart from traveling with my best pals to Mallorca, which was so much fun by the way, I would say that the best part of this year is my two week solo trip to the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Notably the last leg of my trip to Budapest, Hungary! It was so special because I fell in love with the city and I was not expecting much things to do in Budapest but I was so surprised with the amount of fun I had while in there! Not only my appetite for food was tickled by Hungarian cuisine but also because of the fact that the city is so easy to love, it was a trip full of amazing memories.
I’ve met amazing people during my stay there and as well spent a lot of time with new found friends whom I will never forget. My trip to Budapest opened my eyes to the world of beauty and sorrow in one, the country’s history sure is devastating but the lesson I learned from their history’s point of view sums up how little I know about world history and for me; it was a whole new world to discover and I was like a little child ready to absorb everything I need to learn in order to understand what has happened in the past in that specific area. It was an eye opener indeed! I couldn’t believe how ignorant I have been all these years about the wars because, of course, world history only talks about the winning part but never the losing and to hear about the other side of the story made me realize that war truly only brings sorrow.
For me, traveling is not always about the place you visit but also the people and as well everything you’ll learn from that place. Budapest made me experience everything good about the city, but also the bad. That, in my opinion, is an experience never to be forgotten.
By Karolina at KarolinaPatryk
My best travel experience in 2016 was visiting Myanmar. We have been traveling around South East Asia for more than 8 months and Burma was the only country that we seemed to forget about. When we finally decided to go there this summer we felt in love with it right away! Myanmar became our favourite tourist destination not only in SE Asia but also in the world. It was even better than our beloved Thailand. Friendly people, delicious food, unique culture, unspoilt nature and beautiful places to visit are something we will never forget. I can’t wait to visit Burma again!
Victoria Falls, Zambia
By John at Roaming Around the World
Africa’s famed Victoria Falls is one of our favorite travel experiences from 2016. Victoria Falls is classified as the largest waterfall in the world when taking into account the combination of width and height of this continuously flowing sheet of water. Victoria Falls has both the deserving status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World.
While this massive waterfall is certainly impressive on its own merit, it’s all the adventure you can have at Victoria Falls that really won us over. You can get a birds-eye view of the Falls in a jaw-dropping helicopter ride. Another white-knuckle thrill is whitewater rafting down the grade 5 rapids below the falls.
Yet for the most extreme activity, you can take a daring swim in the world’s ultimate infinity pool. In Devil’s Pool you literally hang over the top of the world’s largest waterfall. This proved to be the most thrilling and awesome experience we had in 2016!
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
By Lauren at Hashtagljojlo
Lake Tekapo on the South Island of New Zealand takes the cake of favourite place for 2016. This majestic lake is fed by glacial waters making it the most incredible turquoise colour, and due to this, you could literally stare at it all day. This incredible beauty sucked me right in, and I found myself visiting the lake not once but twice on a recent trip to New Zealand. While visiting Lake Tekapo ensure you do the walk up Mt John to take in the beauty of the lake, town and surrounds. This panoramic view while perched on top of the mountain is something special. Oh and if you are not into walking you can, in fact, drive up Mt John too, therefore, not missing out on the amazing scenery.
Rockland Maine, USA
By Dana at Dana Freeman Travels
This summer my husband and I embarked on a wine tasting Windjammer Cruise. We set sail for four nights on the recently renovated Schooner Ladona. She sails out of her home port in Rockland, Maine from May through October. With no formal itinerary in place, each day the Captain charts a course, based on the winds and the tide, around the Penobscot Bay. Guests can take in the beautiful scenery as they sail along the rugged coast of Maine. Days are spent relaxing on the deck, and evenings allow for sipping wine and gourmet meals. There is windjamming and then there is luxury Vintage cruising on a tall ship, truly a unique experience. The Maine Windjammer Association fleet of ships each have their own distinct personalities. If glamping on a boat is more your style, then I’d highly recommend you choose to sail on the Schooner Ladona.
El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
By Barbara at Jet-Settera
I have traveled through 24 countries so far in 2016. The most memorable experience was the few days I spent in a private island of El Nido, Palawan in the Philippines. We flew down to the smallest airport I have ever seen. From the airport, we took a small boat to reach our private island. On the island everyone had their own private bungalow. We spent 3 days cruising from one island to the next on our private boat. We discovered other resorts on the islands nearby. We scuba dove near the hotel and saw many fish as well as black-tip sharks. The Philippines was a real paradise and I really recommend everyone to visit these fascinating islands.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
By Gloria at Nomad Chica
One of my first travel dreams, since I was a kid, was visiting Brazil during carnival. The idea of being inside the Sambadrome with all the music, dancers, and the incredible show was always on my mind. This 2016 was finally that time! During almost the whole month of February, Brazil turns into a celebrating country and the Samba schools are ready to show what they were preparing during the year. The celebrations go in different cities with one main parade, but most of the action happens on the streets in the so called Blocos. There are more than 500 Blocos on the streets where people dance with costumes. Celebrating for a night in the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro is one of those experiences you never forget and it guarantees you a great party night full of happiness, Caipirinhas, and music!
Zion National Park, Utah, USA
By Erika at Erika’s Travels
This past summer, my boyfriend and I made a pact to buy a National Park Annual Pass and explore as many of America’s parks as possible during long weekends and holidays. So, after a trip to Italy and Malta in October, we made an impromptu decision to fly down to Utah for a few days of hiking in Zion National Park. Zion National Park is renowned for its towering red and white cliffs, its narrow canyon walls and its dramatic viewpoints. The highlight of our visit to Zion was an eight mile return hike to Observation Point–the highest point in the park. From the top of the trail, a tapestry of greens, oranges, reds and pinks spanned out before our eyes and took our breaths away. The trip was a reminder that, while I often chase exotic destinations around the globe, the most memorable destinations in the world are often the ones closest to home.
By Chrysoula at Travel Passionate
In 2016 I was lucky enough to travel to a few places mainly around Greece and Italy. The one that stole my heart though was a 5-day trip to the island of Lesvos in Greece. Lesvos has received a lot of negative publicity in the last months due to the increasing number of immigrants that arrived at the island from Syria causing a huge drop in tourist arrivals. With all that in mind, I arrived at the island to realise how safe it was and how beautiful. There are so many things one can do in Lesvos. Visit the town of Mytilene with its aristocratic houses, the impressive castle and the interesting museums. Head to one of the beaches or visit the traditional villages of Molyvos, Agiasos, Asomatos and Eressos. Hike one of the many paths in the mountains and through the olive groves. Taste the locally produced ouzo and try local products like olive oil, sardines and cheese. Meet the most hospitable people. What I loved about the island is how it managed to remain authentic and has kept its traditions. Lesvos is a place I will come back soon as there are so many things left to see and do.
By Karin at Girl Astray
Pantelleria is a tiny piece of volcanic perfection floating in the waves of the Mediterranean sea near Sicily (Italy). I have spent more than two weeks exploring its beauty in october, enjoying the wonderful thermal springs and healing mud that does wonders to your skin – supposedly, I was there for a week, but I couldn´t make myself leave that soon! As the island is quite small, the local people are extremely friendly which makes hitchhiking a great option to get around.
Pantelleria has a stunning scenery of several volcanic hills connected by Roman walking trails of stone you can hike, various archaelogical sites to discover and in addition to several thermal springs and mud, you can also enjoy the natural sauna – hot steam rising from the rocks, heating your body as you watch the sun set and the moon rise…that is a relaxing (and romantic) experience I have never had before!
By Adelina at Pack Me To
My best travel experience in 2016 was my visit to Córdoba, Spain to see the Mezquita in the centre of the city. Prior to my trip, I had seen so many mesmerizing photos of the buildings endless red and white pillars and high arches and could not wait to see it myself. Once there, it definitely lived up to my expectations and more. It was so much bigger in real life that I had ever imagined. Combined with the organ playing in the background, the quiet stillness inside and vastness of the building, it was an ethereal experience. Beyond the Mezquita, the rest of the city was a delight to discover. From the beautiful gardens of the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos to the quaint meandering streets of the Jewish quarter, despite my short time in the city, Córdoba has become a highlight of my travels this year.
By Hannah at Getting Stamped
There are so many amazing places we’ve visited, but this year we spent 3 weeks exploring the best of Sri Lanka and were amazed by everything Sri Lanka has to offer. Not many destinations have amazing beaches, gorgeous countryside, tasty food, tons of culture, and even safaris. We explored Sri Lanka by all modes of transport (car, bus, train, tuk tuk, plane) but our favorite was the train ride from Colombo to Kandy. The train may have been packed but the scenery was amazing, and there is something about being with the locals and seeing how the locals live. One of our favorite nights was spent in a luxury tented camp in Yala National Park after an incredible day on safari where we saw several leopards. We’ve been on safari in Africa twice and have never seen so many leopards. Less than an hour away from Yala is Galle, our favorite coastal town in Sri Lanka. We know we’ll be back to Sri Lanka!
Whew! Now I know that you’ve been inspired by these travelers, but just wait until next week when we have even more!
Where was your favorite trip this past year?
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