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Our Favorite Travel Experiences of 2016

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In terms of travel, 2016 was pretty epic. If you count the United Sates, we traveled throughout six wondrous countries, each remarkable and diverse in their own right. 2016 was also the year that I launched this travel blog, so Happy (almost) Blogiversary to me! This little blog of mine has been so rewarding and has been one of my proudest endeavors of the past year. I’ve never viewed myself as a writer, and truth be told, I’ve never particularly loved writing (shhh…don’t tell my third graders!). While I certainly won’t be winning the Pulitzer anytime soon, I’m proud of my writing. I feel like I’m gradually finding my voice, have seen growth in my narrative, and (hope) that my sense of humor is reflected. But what’s most important is that I honestly f*@#ing love writing this blog, so much more than I ever thought possible. I love that our love for travel has transformed me into a storyteller, and I love reminiscing about all of our incredible experiences. I’m looking forward to becoming a better writer and sharing our travels with anyone who cares to read. And of course, I’m excited for the new adventures that 2017 will bring: Cuba, Greece, and Japan, among various U.S. trips, are all on the horizon. But for now, I will relish in the spectacular travel moments that we’ve been fortunate enough to encounter in 2016.

 

Listed in chronological order.

 

NICARAGUA

San Juan del Sur

Full transparency, the majority of this trip occurred during the tail-end of 2015, but since our time in Nicaragua extended into New Year’s Day, I’m counting it. Am I cheating? A little bit. Do I care? Not even a little bit. We loved colorful Nicaragua and I’ve written extensively about the spirited town of Granada here, but we especially loved San Juan del Sur. This laid-back, beach-bummy, surfer-dudish (both are totally words), funky coastal town on the Pacific reminded us so much of our beloved Tamarindo, Costa Rica, where we got married nearly twelve years ago. You can’t help but fall in love with the scene here – the beaches and sunsets are striking, the vivid colors are intoxicating, and the restaurant and bar scene is lively and eclectic. Nicaragua has rapidly risen in popularity over the last several years and it’s easy to see why this country has become such an attractive destination. A more in-depth guide to San Juan del Sur coming soon.

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ICELAND

Seeing the Northern Lights

There are few things in this world that can rival the astonishing light show that is the Northern Lights (Aurelius Borealis for all you fancy people out there who believe in science, and whatnot). Seeing these mesmerizing lights dance across the sky, not once but twice, was pure magic. What’s almost as magnificent as seeing these lights is the chase. Viewing the lights is a national obsession and everywhere you go, from inns to restaurants, a tracker is displayed, where weather conditions and probability of visibility is predicted daily. It’s safe to say that we (read: I) became obsessed with seeing the lights and so when we heard from fellow travelers that they saw them only minutes down the road from our guesthouse, we immediately jumped in our car and drove in hot pursuit (actually it was freeeeeezing, but you get the idea). One of my favorite moments of the year was when we finally saw these extraordinary lights, intense hues of green and purple gliding along the midnight sky. We pulled over, busted out the scotch (you didn’t think we’d forget to bring the scotch, did you?), blasted Ice Cube’s Today is a Good Day, and soaked it all in. Such a memorable night. Disclaimer: I did not take a single one of these incredible photos. But our talented friend Brent, did. So if you’re interested in seeing more of his photography magic, check out his outstanding work here.  A travel tip you can take to the bank: travel with a really good photographer and you are guaranteed to reap all of the rewards! Clearly these lights aren’t the only brilliant things around here.

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Chasing Waterfalls

You guys. There’s a reason why so many say that Iceland looks like it’s another planet. Its natural beauty is freaking unworldly. It was difficult to narrow down my favorite Icelandic moments, so I cheated a little bit (are you sensing a theme yet?), and counted all of the waterfalls as one category. Have I mentioned my brilliance? For a comprehensive guide on how to channel your inner T-Boz and chase those waterfalls once and for all, continue on to read this wonderfall post (but not until you finish this one first, of course).

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Ice Caving

True Blue, Baby I Love You. I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues. Blue Crush. So many puns while climbing and crawling through this phenomenal cave. After about a forty-five minute drive through dramatic terrain, we arrived at the ice cave opening by Vatnajokull Glacier. We put on our crampons and helmets before descending into the largest natural ice cave in the world. We definitely got lucky–our ice cave tour was on the second to last day of the season. If you are in Iceland during the winter, I highly recommend exploring an ice cave–a truly awesome experience. We used the tour company Extreme Iceland and were extremely happy with them.

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UNITED STATES

Asheville, North Carolina

Oh Asheville. You are a beacon of light and hope in the current catastrophic (self-imposing, I should add) events of your state. While much of North Carolina has become a highly conservative-charged political hotbed, Asheville’s easygoing vibe is a welcomed reprieve. But I digress–this is not the time to get all political up in here. Nestled between the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, Asheville is a cultural haven defined by its vibrant music and arts realm, delicious micro craft breweries, thriving restaurant scene, and of course the infamous Biltmore Estate.  A more detailed post coming soon.

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DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Bavaro

This pick is a deeply personal one (well I guess this entire post is, but well, hear me out). Over a year ago, we bought a second home in the Bavaro area (think Punta Cana) and it was one of the best decisions we have ever made. We spent nearly two weeks here in July and absolutely loved getting acquainted with our neighborhood, dining at local restaurants, and basking in the glorious sun and crystal blue sea. But what made this trip so special was that my dad came down to visit. My dad is not exactly what you would call a traveler, so exposing him to the culture and beauty of our home-away-from-home meant the world to us. From our enjoyable day trip to La Romana to feasting on the most incredible paella we’ve ever had (that’s including Spain, by the way), just thinking about this time with my dad brings a smile to my face. To top it off, immediately following my dad’s visit, dear friends of ours came down and we got to enjoy a completely different kind of Dominican Republic: an adventurous dune buggy tour, eating at the delectable (albeit extremely unhygienic) seafood shacks, soaking up the sun at the gorgeous Macao Beach, and eating and drinking our way through the local eateries and bars. We can’t wait to return this summer. Stay tuned for more about Bavaro.

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COLOMBIA (and our favorite country of the year)

Eje Cafetero

I have already sung Colombia’s coffee region’s praises here, so no need to belabor the fact. But I will say this: if you are a coffee drinker, visiting the lush region of Eje Cafetero can be as glorious as visiting other deliciously gorgeous areas like the wine lands of Napa Valley and South Africa.  Tucked in the verdant Andes Mountains, Colombia’s coffee region is visually breathtaking and virtually still untouched. As if that it isn’t enough, it will pretty much satiate all of your caffeine needs. What more can you ask for in a destination?

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Cartagena

A gorgeous blend of Spanish-colonial charm and vibrant Caribbean vibes, the enchanting old town of Cartagena is oozing of sophistication, splendor and sultriness.  With stunning views of the sea, a varied and creative dining scene, elegant plazas, chic boutiques, and a palette of vivid colors and quaint backstreets at the turn of every corner, it’s easy to see why so many (including us) fall in love with this captivating city. Cartagena is a place where you want to linger at a stylish cafe drinking multiple cups of tinto (a small intense hit of coffee) in the morning, nosh on mouth-watering ceviche and other flavorful seafood throughout the day, and sip on refreshing Aperol Spritzes into the wee hours of the night. We could live in Cartagena and even contemplated (for like 10 minutes, mind you, but still) looking into buying a vacation home here. More and more people are catching onto the allure of Colombia and tourism is beginning to boom, largely due to the utter perfection that is Cartagena. My advice? Go soon (read: now). What is quite possibly the most appealing feature of Cartagena is that there are hardly any chains (in fact you won’t find a single Starbuck’s or McDonald’s here –at least for now!) and it hasn’t been taken over by American megastore conglomerates. It’s clear why Cartagena is often regarded as the jewel of Colombia’s crown. A true gem.  A full, detailed Cartagena blog post is forthcoming.

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MEXICO

Los Cabos

We closed out 2016 with a bang. Cabo is of course geographically blessed with pristine beaches, turquoise water, and a dramatic desert landscape. Our favorite moments of this vacation (and yes, this was certainly more of a vacation than a trip–and if you have read any of my previous posts, you know that we typically prefer trips, but sometimes you just need a vacation, amiright?) were our fantastic excursions: we felt rejuvenated while sea kayaking to the infamous Arch and Lover’s Beach, found traversing the sand dunes and cliffs along the Pacific Ocean both terrifying and exhilarating, and were in absolute awe of the countless humpbacks we saw while whale-watching. A fabulous way to wind down an outstanding year of travel.  A comprehensive guide to Los Cabos is coming soon (obviously another trend…evidently I have a lot of writing to do in the upcoming year). 

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Wishing you all an abundance of joy, love, adventure, and growth in the upcoming year.  Happy Traveling, All!

 

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