Popular holiday and travel destinations guides

 

Travel Destinations

Travel Writer's Wish List for Popular Destinations to Visit

As a travel writer, I explore the globe on somebody else’s dollar - lucky, I know. But there are a few special places in the world where I’d willingly pay to return to … places not yet spoiled by the madding crowds … where you can still feel like a traveler, not a tourist.

So where should you consider visiting this year? Well, if my editor’s paying attention, the following eight travel destinations are at the top of my wish list, spread over three different continents. No matter where you go in the world, you will find a holiday destination that you like.

CENTRAL AMERICA

Mexico’s Colonial Heartland

Visiting Mexico’s colonial cities is like falling through a crack in time, back to the 16th century--the heyday of the Spanish Conquistadores. Don’t miss the creepy mummies of Guanajuato, the opal sellers of Queretero, or Zacatecas and its silver mines. (When I was in Zacatecas, you could go dancing in one of the mines, and stay in a bullring that’s now a hotel.) There’s also the quaint art-and-crafts town of San Miguel de Allende; Dolores Hidalgo, birthplace of Mexican independence; and Morelia, home of the Museo del Dulce. This candy museum showcases over 300 varieties, many the original recipes of nuns. Here, Mexican food is aimed at Mexicans, not gringos--as well as sampling the restaurants, you can take a short cookery course. Plus, you can relax in spas, go horse-riding, and shop for great buys in leather.

Acapulco in Mexico
Located some 300 kms from Mexico City, Acapulco is one of Mexico's top destinations.
(Image by Freeimages.com)

Martinique and Guadeloupe, French West Indies

Combining small island charm with Caribbean chic, Martinique and Guadeloupe are the two main islands of the French West Indies. Odd though it seems, these two islands are as French as Provence. Islanders carry French identity cards, use euros, and fly tricolors from town halls.

Although you’ll come across beach shacks, free-ranging hens, and throbbing zouk music, you’ll also encounter six-lane highways, nudist beaches, manicured golf courses, and stylish marinas. Fishing, sailing, and diving opportunities are incredible: Off Guadeloupe’s western coast is the Jacques Cousteau Marine Reserve, an underwater realm of corals, sea sponges, and tropical fish.

SOUTH AMERICA

Buenos Aires, Argentina

One of the world’s best-value travel destinations right now, Buenos Aires is South America’s most sophisticated city. Take a tango lesson...explore the colorful port quarter of La Boca...see who else besides Evita is buried in Recoleta cemetery...check out the San Telmo antiques market...hunt down the perfect steak...go clubbing in Palermo...join the café society...experience a local soccer match...kayak the waterways of the Rio del Plata. Short side trips could include a visit to a ranch or the beaches of Mar del Plata. For a longer add-on, you could tour the Mendoza vineyards, head south into the wilds of Patagonia, or visit the colonial northwest around Salta.

Argentina's capital Buenos Aires
The capitaly city of Argentina, Buenos Aires, is the obvious choice of a
South American travel destination. (Image by Freeimages.com)

ASIA

Borneo, Malaysia

Shared with the independent sultanate of Brunei, northern Borneo encompasses the Malaysian states of Sarawak (“Land of the Hornbill”) and Sabah (“Land Below the Wind”). The island is home to southeast Asia’s highest peaks, oldest jungles, and the white-sand beaches of the South China Sea. To get the most from this trip, spend time in both Sabah and Sarawak. For me, Sabah was characterized by mountains, snorkeling adventures, and the “People of the Forest:” silky-haired orangutans. Sarawak has more in the way of jungle, longhouse settlements, and Iban warriors. Look out for the blue tattoos on the fingers of Iban village elders--these indicate your hosts enjoyed a spot of head-hunting in their youth. (And I don’t mean the kind of head-hunting that goes on in corporate circles!) If you are staying in Borneo, don’t forget to book your travel accommodation through Expedia to get the best deals.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Silk-making, silverware, hand-painted parasols... Teak furniture, celadon pottery, even elephant-dung paper... The center of Thailand’s crafts industry, Chiang Mai offers boundless opportunities to shop. The city’s mammoth Night Market is but one outlet--delve into the bustling bylanes, and you’ll find plenty more artisans practicing traditional crafts. What else can you do? Well, how about sampling Thai food (both eating and cookery courses)...or encounters with hill tribes...or elephant conservation...or traditional Thai massage...or whitewater river rafting...or jungle-trekking...or a side trip to the notorious Golden Triangle. And that’s just for starters…

EUROPE

Andalucia, Spain

Bullfights, flamenco, and ice-cold gazpacho. Free bar snacks called tapas--how many different ones can you sample? Sugar-cube houses with courtyard patios and terraces hung with vines, honeysuckle, and jasmine. Although Cordoba, Seville, and Granada are the stars of the Andalucian show, numerous small towns and villages throughout this region also invoke the glory days of Moorish Spain.

Andalucian children dressed in local attire
As one of Europe's most desired holiday destinations, Spain offers colourful culture and events.
(Image by Freeimages.com)

Set aside some time to hike the Alpujarras, the southern foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains...then head down to the coast to see why the Costa del Sol is one of northern Europe’s favorite vacation destinations. But avoid mass tourism destinations such as Torremolinos--Europe’s glitterati hang out in Marbella and the yachting center of Puerto Banus.

Corsica, France

Can’t decide whether the charms of la belle France outweigh those of bella Italia? Then visit Corsica, birthplace of Napoleon. Although this little-known island belongs to France, its nearest neighbor is Italy. You get the best of both worlds: excellent food and wine, great summer weather, hiking trails with mesmerizing scenery, and towns steeped in vendetta history. Plus, a sea that shimmers peacock blue.

Bonifacio on Corsica
Located on the suthernd end of Corsica is the town of Bonifacio,
overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. (Image by Freeimages.com)

If I had to pick a favorite place in the Mediterranean, Corsica would be it. Ajaccio, Bonifaccio, and Calvi make three interesting bases to discover the island--if you’re looking for an entanglement with a handsome brute wearing a kepi, Calvi is still home to an outpost of the French Foreign Legion.

Crete, Greece

In toytown harbors, weather-beaten fishermen repair bright yellow nets. Donkeys clop down steep alleyways and wayward goats try to scrabble up into olive trees. White houses cascade with jasmine, cats doze away on terraces and ya-yas (wizened old ladies) sit in doorways shelling peas and exchanging gossip. The Aegean Sea is as idyllic as in Homer’s day: mother-of-pearl at dawn...deep blue at midday...shot-silk at twilight. Of Greece’s hundreds of islands and islets, 166 are inhabited.

Ferries on Crete island
Ferry services are readily available on Greek islands, including its largest island of Crete.
(Image by Freeimages.com)

If forced to choose a single destination, I’d go for Crete, the largest island. You can wander the ruins of Knossos (home of the legendary Minotaur), hike the Samaria Gorge, and visit Spinalonga (Europe’s last leper colony). Best places to base yourself? The pretty-as-a-postcard village of Elounda in the east and the old Venetian town of Chania in the west.

Steenie Harvey
Roscommon, Ireland
Roving Editor, International Living

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