10 trips for every type of traveler
While it's true that most travel destinations aren’t like haute couture -- “in” one year and “out” the next -- there are some points on the map particularly worth visiting.
For good reasons, this is the year to mount a camel, trip through Palu's underwater psychedelia and -- yes, you can -- tackle the mighty Himalayas.
Before the calendar turns, here's a planner for the year’s best trips.
Best adventure trip: Everest base camp
The thrill of high-altitude trekking in Nepal was once available only to a gung-ho few. Recently, the journey has become more accessible.
In April 2011, co-host of international television show Word Travels and travel writer Robin Esrock will lead a trek to the Everest Base Camp with World Expeditions.
The journey begins in Kathmandu Valley and ascends through Sherpa villages to Tengboche Monastery, where awestruck hikers get panoramic views of the rock star mountains of the Himalayas: Tawache, Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse, Ama Dablam.
Hikers will traverse part of the treacherous
Khumbu Glacier, followed by an ascent of Kala Pattar (18,192 feet),
before stopping at Everest Base Camp.
“In Nepal, acclimatizing is going to be key, as is exercising for several months beforehand to
ensure your body can take it,” Esrock cautions. “Wearing in your gear is a must, although those
incredible Sherpas will no doubt be worth their weight in stardust.”
The World Expeditions hike to Everest Base Camp runs April 4-24, 2011, and begins in Kathmandu.
Price is US$2,768 per person, including food, trek pack, porters and accommodation.
Best foodie trip: Chengdu, Sichuan
In August 2010, the Sichuan capital of Chengdu was honored as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy.
That same month on Twitter, American TV host Andrew Zimmern could barely contain his enthusiasm for the budding food scene. He uploaded a photo of local dumplings that could be mistaken for giant jellyfish. Chengdu’s meat market was packed with every type of dried pork, including pig skin face.
For those less adventursome, an easy first stop on the Chengdu food safari is the bustling Chuan Chuan Xiang
hotpot restaurant. Here, meat and vegetables are cooked together rather
than piecemeal. (Chuan Chuan Xiang, 45 Double Bridge Road, Chengdu,
tel: +028 8433 6879)
Another Chengdu favorite: Grandma Jin’s Handmade Noodles (Xiaojiahe St, Chengdu, tel: +028 8518 6457), where hand-pulled “bedspread” noodles resemble a large and chewy sheet. The most popular order is noodles topped with spicy red braised beef.
Located near Wen Shu Temple, the intimate BuddhaZen hotel is highly rated on TripAdvisor and other web forums. The spacious rooms go for US$64-$76. (BuddhaZen hotel, B6-6, Wenshufang Street, Qingyang District, Chengdu, tel: +86 28 8692 9898)
Best road trip: Ireland clockwise
The endless highways of North America or Australia are inviting, but in 2011, the Emerald Isle makes for a more mystical (and affordable) setting for a long, freewheeling drive.
Ireland native Herbie Brennan is the bestselling author of more than 100 books, many with themes of mystic exploration.
For a short trip, Brennan recommends driving 32 kilometers northwest from Dublin to Newgrange.
“It is probably the most spectacular megalithic site on the planet, beating Britain’s Stonehenge,” he says.
Far more satisfying is a ten-day, 1,320-kilometer Ireland clockwise road trip starting from Dublin. First big stop is Kilkenny, a preserved medieval village, followed by a session with the Blarney Stone.
route takes in Kerry’s 4,000-year-old stone forts, majestic Cliffs of
Moher and rugged Connemara, then zips back around to Belfast. Along the
way you'll get your fill of sodden bogs, picturesque towns, Irish music,
charming country pubs and, yes, green, green, green hills.
Visitors can lease a ride from Dublin-based Argus Car Hire Ireland for as low as US $10 a day (See what we mean about affordable?) Go Ireland lists rates and specials for hotels all over the country.
How to make the most of the drive?
“Visit the country pubs and talk to people,” advises Brennan. “Or rather, listen. With the Irish it’s difficult to get a word in edgeways.”
Ireland out of reach? Asia is loaded with once-in-a-lifetime roaders. Check out these 8 spectacular driving adventures in Asia.
Best eco trip: Borneo
Described by Charles Darwin as a “great luxuriant hothouse made by nature for herself,” Borneo is one of the world’s most eco-diverse zones.
On Sipadan Island, the most famous island off Borneo, divers can swim with exotic creatures -- batfish, clownfish, lionfish, harlequin ghost piefish. To get there, fly to Kota Kinabalu or Tawau, then continue for one hour by car to Semporna for a boat launch.
Animal lovers can play with primates at Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, a rehabilitation center that re-trains the displaced animals for life in the jungle. The sanctuary is reached by bus or taxi, a 23-kilometer ride from Sandakan town. (Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, Batu 14, Jalan Labuk Sandakan Sabah, tel: +6 089 531180, admission US$10.)
Selingan Island is home to green and hawksbill turtles that creep onto the beaches after dark to lay their eggs.
Since access to Selingan Island is restricted, joining a day tour is the best option. There are several tour operators at the floating village on the Sandakan waterfront. A guided tour and overnight stay from Journey Malaysia begins at US$280.
Another way to help preserve the island's future: stay at an ecolodge. North Borneo’s Sukau Rainforest Lodge has its own generators and uses solar-heated water. Down south, Rimba Orangutan Eco Lodges offer rainforest strolls and wooden boat rides.
Best tropical island trip: Palau
In 2010, Palau withdrew support for Japanese whaling, called for an end to shark finning and became the third country worldwide to ban the bottom-trawling fishing method of dragging nets across the sea floor.
That commitment to marine health put the Pacific Island nation on the 2010 Ethical Traveler’s list of 10 best destinations in the developing world.
With ongoing eco-initiatives in 2011, Palau is preserving its reputation as a destination for undersea exploration.
Lake is famed for the millions of harmless gold jellies that pulse
through its waters. To reach the lake, take a 45-minute boat ride from
Koror to Eil Malk island. Highly regarded Sam’s Tours offers a full day of diving and snorkeling for US$139. (Sam’s Tours, P.O. Box 7076, Koror, Palau, tel: +680 488 1062)
Sam’s also operates land tours of the “big island” Badeldoab, best known for its 98-foot high Ngardmau Falls. Also of note: ancient stone monoliths and WWII gun emplacements. Sam’s Tours has US$150 day trips.
The only hotel with its own beach is the Palau Pacific Resort. Rooms with oceanfront views begin at US$280, and the hotel is conveniently located in the business district of Koror. (Palau Pacific Resort, PO Box 308, Koror 96940, Palau, tel: +680 488 8888)
Best budget trip: Morocco
Owing to a certain Humphrey Bogart film, many think of Morocco as a mysterious and extravagent place. However, once travelers touch down in North Africa, the sightseeing costs are surprisingly bearable.
In Marrakesh, foodies can fill up at the vegetarian Earth Café for US$5-$8 (Earth Café Marrakesh, N 2, Derb Zawak, Riad Zitoun Kedim, Medina, Marrakech, tel: +212 6054 4992). The restaurant is known for its fresh juices and generous portions of flavorful food, such as pastille (savory pie) and amlou, a thick almond dip.
A camel trek is a classic Moroccan experience that won’t break the bank. For US$20, travelers can ride up the Sahara dunes at sunrise and catch a glowing red view of the desert.
At sunset, your Ship of the Desert ambles to a desert hotel, where you can relax and listen to live Berber drumming.
To access the Camel Tours takeoff point, take a bus from Bab Doukala station in Marrakesh to Rissani; it departs at 3 p.m. and arrives 7 a.m., and costs US$21. Guides will then transport you to the Erg Chebbi dunes.
The Riad Charlott
has four-star-quality rooms for US$98-$183. Visitors enter a classic
courtyard and are greeted with mint tea and biscuits, and rose petals on
the bed. (Riad Charlott, Derb Sidi Ahmed Bennacer, Kaat Bennahid,
Marrakech 40000, Morocco, tel: +212 05243 91689,)
Morocco’s best hostels and riads (family run guesthouses) are ranked in this article.
Best gambling trip: France
Gambling in France is a classy affair, with nearly 200 upscale casinos around the country populated by elegant socialites imbued with the highbrow 'tude of the Riviera.
In February 2011, the France Poker Series finals play out at Cercle Haussmann’s 25 tables. (Cercle Haussmann, 22 rue de la Michodière, 75002, Paris, tel: +01 47 42 67 82)
Blackjack originated in 17th-century Paris, and Cercle Wagram’s paneled walls and chandeliers keep the old-time feel. (Cercle Wagram, 47 avenue de Wagram, 75017, Paris, tel: +01 43 80 65 13)
The casino in Divonne-les-Bains, a spa town bordering Switzerland, is the largest in France. Gamblers can choose between French and English roulette, and shift from Texas hold ‘em to stud poker. (Domaine de Divonne, Avenue des Thermes, 01220 Divonne les Bains, tel: +33 04 50 40 34 34)
Lorraine’s Casino de Contrexéville was established in 1900, its Baroque architecture inspired by the Paris Opera House. The casino recently added a hall for nearly 200 slot machines. (Domaine de Contrexeville, 13 Rue de Metz, 88140 Contrexéville, tel: +03 29 07 61 61)
Best trip with kids: Vancouver, Canada
Prettiest big city setting on the planet? Vancouver, British Columbia, has got to be in that discussion.
the scenery isn't just for show -- in British Columbia, kids can wet
their pants over the towering Coast Mountains while getting up close to
wild animals, such as whales, eagles, sea lion and deer.
“Outdoor activities, like hiking and kayaking, are available right from the city, and at fairly affordable rates," says Asta Mail, a marine biologist at Vancouver Science World.
Mail recommends a walk in Richmond Nature Park, which has four easy trails totaling seven kilometers in length. The “Nature House” has a small collection of live animals and an active beehive. (Richmond Nature Park, 11851 Westminster Highway, Richmond, BC, tel: +604 718 6188)
After catching age-appropriate buzzes on Tim Hortons famous coffee and/or donuts, families can hit Deer Lake Boat Rentals
to rent canoes, rowboats or pedal boats for CAN$17 an hour, while blue
herons, beavers, turtles and other creatures dart between the lilypads.
(Deer Lake Boat Rentals, 5435 Sperling Ave., Burnaby, BC, tel: +604 839
Several kid-friendly music and theater festivals are slated for summer 2011.
The popular Children’s Festival moves to Granville Island for the first time in 2011, increasing the number of performers and stage capabilities. The May 30-June 5 lineup includes Al Simmon’s Juno Award-winning musical comedy.
Best revolutionary trip: Che Guevara's Route, Bolivia
Because of its high, isolated plateaus and devout, indigenous population, Bolivia is sometimes called the “Tibet of South America."
The trails are welcoming to backpackers, and the living is easy: trekkers can eat and sleep well for US$25 a day.
On one of those trails, modern history buffs can relive a Che Guevara journey on “La Ruta Che,” which follows the guerrilla fighter’s path as he tried to advance a socialist revolution in South America.
Swiss Bolivian Adventures (Swiss Bolivian Adventures, Avenida Mariscal Santa Cruz, Handal Center Planta Baja, Oficina 6 , La Paz, Bolivia, tel: +591 2 240 6470) offers three- and six-day tours of the trail, beginning at US$125.
From Santa Cruz, the path leads to the Vallegrande laundry where the leader was exposed, to Abra del Picacho where his guerrillas fought, and finally to La Higuera, the site of Guevara’s execution in 1967. The route is fine for beginners.
Hostels such as Jodanga in Santa Cruz are tailored specifically to backpackers. The communal atmosphere and Spanish lessons let fellow trekkers meet and exchange info. A bed in the dorm is US$10; a private bathroom and room with air-conditioning is US$31 a night. (Jodanga Backpackers Hostel, El Fuerte N0 1380, Barrio Los Choferes, Santa Cruz, Bolivia, tel: 591 3 339 65 42)
Best volunteer trip: Cambodia
In November 2010, the Cambodian bridge stampede that killed hundreds drew attention to both the country’s beauty and incessant troubles.
Opportunities for visitors to help Cambodians are plentiful. Visitors can do human rights work, dig wells and latrines and teach everything from English to hospitality to hairdressing.
Travelersphilanthrophy.com has tips on giving responsibly.
Star Kampuchea’s volunteer programs are four to 24 weeks long, with volunteers working 30-40 hours per week. The organization helps visitors acquire visas (about US$43) and connect with host families. Cost begins at US$770 per month; an independent stay is US$490 per month. Training begins the first and third Monday of each month.
Star Kampuchea, No. 67, Street 123, Sangkat Toul Tompoung 1, Khan Chamkar Morn, Phnom Penh, tel +855 23 211 612
For more volunteer vacations check out these 6 inspiring trips in Asia.