I’m fortunate and extremely thankful to have had the opportunity to explore a significant amount of the world in my lifetime thus far; having been to all six habitable continents. People will often ask me where my top 10 favorite places are in the world. Anyone who is a traveler would understand it is ultimately an impossible endeavor. In essence, your favorites are a moving target. What you loved backpacking in Thailand 20 years ago might not be what you would put on your top list today. And the more you continue to travel, the more the list will shift. Also, is “favorite” based on nature and natural beauty? Adventure? Art and Architecture? Food? History? The warmth of the locals?
Given that laborious task, I began jotting down places while riding a 4+ hour shuttle in Costa Rica. I had a little time on my hands with no WiFi and painfully slow-moving traffic on the international highway which runs through the country – connecting to Panama in the south and Nicaragua to the north. The problem was the list kept growing as I thought back fondly of so many incredible memories spanning multiple decades. I managed to cull it down, with a few honorable mentions of which I could not let go. And may I remind you, this list IS a moving target?
Perth, WA, Australia
It has been many years since I have been there, but this city on Australia’s SW coast (and the surrounding region of Freemantle and the Margaret River Valley wine region) has an unmistakable “cool” vibe I have not quite found elsewhere in the country. The year round, near-perfect weather negates the need for heating or air conditioning. Outdoor sports can be found everywhere, from the Australian rules football fields to sailing on the Swan River to snorkeling around the azure waters of Rottnest Island. Looking for wildlife you just don’t see back home? Black swans roam the parklands by the Swan River and Lake Monger and quokkas fearlessly approach you on Rottnest Island looking for a sip of water from your cup. It is worth the flight to this hip city on Australia’s other coast.
Tamarindo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Up until a few decades ago, Tamarindo was a sleepy village on Costa Rica’s NW Pacific coast where surfers would come for the great breaks. Since tourism has discovered this gemstone, it has grown up into something international, yet still keeping its exotic roots. Even post-discovery, the population averages only approximately 3,000. The mix of tourists, expats and locals add unique threads of color to the tapestry of this chill beach town. It is the smallest place I know where you can walk down the street (or the broad, beautiful beach) and hear 5 different languages any given day. And the food? Don’t let the tiny population fool you, there are over 100 area restaurants and bars to satisfy the foodie in you! Plus, you can SUP, surf, golf, fish, horseback ride, ATV, or just photograph wildlife to your heart’s content all within 20 minutes. With the least amount of rain in the country, there is never a bad time to visit.
The small state of Goa on India’s west coast consists of 101 kms of coastline and has a distinctive personality blending east and west, Hindu and Catholic, curry and seafood. It is decidedly India, yet heavily influenced by the Portuguese for almost 450 years. In my travels to Incredible India, I find myself returning each time to Goa. I cannot put my finger on it. The air is different there. Perhaps there is just something exotic about swimming in the Arabian Sea and legally being able to wear a bikini in India with no one judging you as you throw back a cold Kingfisher beer! There are dozens of beaches, some boasting crowds of tourists and others are quiet hideaways. Portuguese fortresses dot the shoreline. The food is endless, from beach shacks to upmarket restaurants perched on cliffs watching the sun sink into the sea at the end of the day. And no trip to Goa is complete without a visit to the all-night Saturday hippie market – Arpora.
Austin, Texas, USA
The capital of Texas has made a name for itself flaunting its live music-food trailers-high tech-gay pride-hipsters-cowboys-starving artists-tolerant vibe. A pretty remarkably harmonious blend, given all the ideological differences. Home to two of the country’s largest music festivals (Austin City Limits, South-by-Southwest) , the only Formula 1 track in the country (Circuit of the Americas), and a great university (University of Texas) -with a massive amount of football followers, this little powerhouse city had put itself on the international map. But it isn’t all music, cars, and football. One must visit the prettiest capital building in the country, the only one standing taller than the USA capital. Austin is located where the farmland to the east meets the scenic hill country to the west. There are delightful day trips to central Texas treasures like swimming holes and a massive pink granite dome (called Enchanted Rock) and dozens of wineries. A weekend is simply not long enough!
Fira, Santorini, Greece
The moment you step onto your whitewashed terrace overlooking the caldera, the “wow factor” will engulf you. This crescent shaped island of Santorini (or Thera) is actually a volcano which erupted thousands of year ago. The city of Fira is built on the side of the volcano overlooking the sunken rim into the sea. You can take a gondola ride to the bottom, or if you are adventurous take a donkey. From there you can catch a boat to the center where you can swim the ancient volcanic waters. For history buffs, you will not want to miss the Akrotiri Ruins. And if you like wine there are multiple wineries to tour. There’s nothing like a good Greek wine to accompany that fresh feta cheese and kalamata olive plate. Santorini is beyond charming and a truly iconic Greek island. Foodies will also celebrate the family owned Greek restaurants at every turn.
Cape Town, South Africa
This international city sits near the bottom of the African continent on the Western Cape where the frigid, turbulent waters of the Atlantic meet the warm, caressing waters of the Indian ocean. You can occasionally see a line at Cape Point where they meet. The Cape Town area boasts everything from international dining and shopping, to gorgeous beaches, to nearby world renowned wine regions, to beautiful museums, to a fascinating and yet difficult history of apartheid. Must do’s include going to the top of one of the cities natural symbols, Table Mountain where the views are spectacular. As well as hanging out at Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. You can ride a double-decker city sightseeing bus which is a fantastic way to hop on and hop off seeing all the major sites. The locals are friendly and the natural beauty is unparalleled.
For anyone interested in the incredible history and architecture of the Roman Empire, Rome is certainly a fantastic place to commence. It is an easy city to navigate on foot, just make sure you have good walking shoes! It was my first European city to visit and I can attest to the fact that throwing a coin in Trevi Fountain does actually work, as I returned multiple times. My top historic places to see are The Vatican City, The Coliseum, The Pantheon, the carnivalesque Piazza Navona, and The Roman Forum. However, there is a multitude of hidden treasures beyond the touristy historic sites. Don’t be afraid to roam the narrow streets of Rome to find little pizzerias and antique shops and neighborhoods still preserved as they were in the Middle Ages. Surprises abound. I once had a waiter kiss me (briefly but passionately) in Piazza Navona whilst leaving his restaurant after dinner. A thrill for a teenage girl! Shhhhh, don’t tell my mother.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
If you like Samba and an easy sexual culture and caipirinhas and beaches and Brazilian steak houses and unique art and a vibrant all-night-party city, this place it for you! I visited Rio on my honeymoon with my “starter husband” and have found myself returning again each decade. Since the recent Olympics there, they have cleaned up the beaches and the city to help visitors feel safe (I have never had any safety issues). A day at famous Ipanema Beach is a bucket list item. And the sights are endless. One must go to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain via cable car to take in the sweeping views of the city. And seeing Christ the Redeemer statue will give you goose bumps, even if you are not Christian. You can hire a driver/tour guide or take the subway with new stops being added. It is a massive city and challenging to navigate, otherwise. Carnival is not for the faint of heart, but certainly a fantastic once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.
Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Bora Bora earns my title as the most romantic place in the universe. I recommend you take a lover when you travel there. From the moment you fly into the tiny WWII airstrip to taking a water taxi to your over-the-water bungalow, everything is absolute magic. The landscape is so spectacular it almost looks fake. The azure water is incredibly clear and the sand is soft and blindingly white and the green mountains are a shade of green not found on the color wheel. It is the kind of place that makes you want to swim naked! Be sure to book a room with a see-through floor so you can watch the sea life swim by. And if you can carve out time to leave your love nest, rent bikes to take in the astonishing beauty of this tiny tropical island or book a traditional Tahitian dance show. Join the throngs of rich and famous who have dined at Bloody Mary’s. Or simply lose yourself on a hammock.
Halong Bay, Vietnam
A UNESCO national world heritage site in the Gulf of Tonkin, includes some 1,600 islands and islets, forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars. Godsmack beauty at every vista. Take the 2-day cruise on a traditional junk boat.
I have always had an affinity for this lovely, historic and vibrant city. After attending school nearby, I desperately wanted to live there. But oh, the weather.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
The largest national park in the USA at 5586 square kilometers (3471 square miles) is a stunner with dramatic canyons, bubbling mud pots, shooting geysers and roaming buffalo. Natural and unusual beauty in the wild west.
History, history, history. No, not American history. No, not European history. ANCIENT history which truly defines “wonders of the world.”
Masai Mara, Kenya
The best place on earth for a safari and glamping. There is nothing as thrilling as seeing these magnificent animals the way nature intended them to be seen.
And the adventure continues. Stay tuned!