Kelsey M.—Whether you want to hike through remote terrain or laze on a pristine beach, these trips highlight cool vacation ideas to suit (almost) every taste.
Bhutan: For The Curious Culture-Seeker
The first time I ever heard of Bhutan was when I hopped a flight from Bangkok to Calcutta courtesy of Bhutan Air. As it turns out, this often-overlooked landlocked nation is a pretty interesting place and still relatively untouched by tourism.
• Bhutan means "land of the Thunder Dragon"
• The government lifted a ban on the internet and television in 1999 to move towards modernization (to put that in perspective, Britney Spears released “Baby one more time” the same year)
• Bhutan is the only country in the world that measures happiness
• Don't miss Taktshang Goemba
• One of Bhutan's most famous monasteries (FYI it’s located 900m up on the side of a cliff, you’ve been warned)
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil: For the Escapist
Thinking of Brazil usually conjures up the beaches of Rio, Carnaval and glamazon Giselle. But just off the coast lies a hidden paradise, Fernando de Noronha. This archipelago (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) is a beach-lover’s dream. Untainted by huge development, this island offers up aquamarine water, world-class diving, great surfing, untouched beaches and loads of wildlife. Fernanda de Noronha takes exclusivity up a notch by restricting the daily number of visitors, so unlike Rio where the beaches are jam-packed, you are guaranteed to feel like the beaches are your very own.
Go diving. With warm water (26C) and visibility up to 50m if you were ever planning an epic diving adventure, this is the place to do it.
A full wallet. This protected eco-paradise charges all visitors an Environment Protection Tax plus most food and goods are flown in from the mainland and include a surcharge. Protecting this island does come at a steep charge.
Istanbul, Turkey: For the City-Slicker
Ah, the city where East meets West. I rolled into Istanbul with my backpack more than 10 years ago and am anxious to go back. In the past few years, this city has morphed into a bustling cosmopolitan center where history, fashion and cultures collide. There’s no shortage of things to do from visiting the incredible Haiga Sophia and haggling for carpets in the Grand Bazaar to exploring exhibits at Istanbul Modern or kicking back and sudsing it up in a traditional hammam.
Get caught up in a frenzy and whirl with the dervishes.
• Ladies: Dust off your old pashmina, it’ll come in handy when visiting mosques/religious sites where covering your head is expected.
• Guys: To avoid looking like an uber tourist, pack pants. Shorts aren’t acceptable city wear and you won’t see any Turkish men wearing them.
Iceland: For the Adventurer
Bjork’s homeland is just as quirky as she is. Unusual history (Icelandic folk are direct descendants of Vikings), a growing arts scene and incredible natural landscapes definitely make Iceland one of the coolest places to visit this year. Adrenaline junkies are going to have a hard time choosing between surfing the icy Atlantic waves, rafting glacial rivers, mountain biking or —for the bravest—diving the Silfra Rift.
Outdoorsy gear is a must, but don’t forgo your sense of style, especially if you are planning to spend any time in Reykjavík.
Valparaiso, Chile: For the Gypsetter
Are you a gypsetter? Driving right past Valparaiso when I visited Chile is definitely one of my biggest travel regrets. Weathered colonial grandeur and 42 cerros (hills) set the scene for Valparaiso’s bohemian and laid-back vibe. Crumbling architecture, colourful street art, corner cafes and spectacular ocean views make Valparaiso the ideal city to wander without a specific destination. It’s all about the journey anyway, right?
Ride on the funicular railway (say what?). Valparaiso’s hills are incredibly steep and this cliff hugging railway makes it a breeze to get the top and snap those “oh I was just in Valparaiso” pics.
Decent walking shoes. I’m a fan of the classic Chuck Taylor.