Favorite Destinations | The Wanderlust Effect
Different destinations naturally call to different types of travelers or different travel interests. With locales as diverse as Kenya and Spain or Israel and Argentina, how do you possibly rank which destination is ‘best’? It’s an impossible task that doesn’t inherently have a great deal of value. Instead, I find it much more useful to look at destinations based on the experience you’re looking to enjoy. Are you going on a trip with family or looking for a romantic escape? Are you an adventure traveler or a beach goer? A hotel aficionado or a budget traveler?
Below are my favorite destinations from across the globe as they relate to different experiences. I hope you find inspiration in this list as it continues to grow and evolve!
“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
For a Family Adventure: Ireland
Ireland was a dream destination for us, and it understandably ranks amongst the most beloved of family travel locales. The landscapes, the lore, and the activities provide something for travelers of all ages, plus the ease of travel within the country make it a gem. Driving is relatively simple (yes, it’s on the left but the roads are impeccable), English is the lingua franca, and with the dollar’s strength in comparison to the euro, it’s a great time to delve into Irish culture with a group in tow.
Read about our road trip through Ireland.
For a Food & Wine Scene: La Rioja, Spain
We went to Basque Country focused on San Sebastian’s acclaimed food scene and we weren’t disappointed. In fact, the region in general exceeded my expectations. Basque Country and La Rioja provide a fantastic center for a food and wine experience whether you’re a casual wine drinker or an aspiring sommelier. Plus it’s a scene that’s approachable and unpretentious, the perfect combination for a relaxing, educational and delicious getaway. Split your time between Basque Country and La Rioja to enjoy the coastal scene along with the vineyard experiences.
Read my tips for wine tasting in La Rioja.
Runners Up: Sonoma County, California; Franschhoek, South Africa
For the Adventure Traveler: Democratic Republic of Congo
When it comes to activity and adventure, the Democratic Republic of Congo delivers in spades. We spent a week in the DRC, with two days of gorilla trekking, two days/one night on a hike to Mt. Nyiragongo (the world’s largest lava lake), and generally delving into experiences that felt so authentic it was a great reminder of how powerful a teacher travel can be. The DRC is a destination that sees very few tourists, and the majority that do visit are confined to the boundaries of Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest park. Safety concerns abound when people discuss visiting the DRC but here’s my take on media vs. reality in the DRC if you’re interested in adding it to your list.
Read about our experience gorilla trekking in the Congo.
For the Wildlife Enthusiast: Kenya
Is a safari quite possibly the ultimate wildlife encounter? For me, yes. While I can appreciate a good underwater adventure, I’m actually one that prefers land adventures to the underwater type, though Kenya offers some great adventures on the sea as well. Our safari experience in Kenya provided a brush with wildlife that was unsurpassed for me: giraffes at play, baby elephants judiciously following in line, hippos outside of our tent, and zebras and wildebeest running across the plains. For those that do love the underwater adventures, snorkeling off the Kenyan Coast (near Mtwapa) was second to none; hands down the best snorkeling I’ve ever experienced. Imagine swimming in the Indian Ocean next to large sea turtles, being surrounded by schools of vibrant fish, and swimming past clams the size of a child. It’s an experience for the ages.
Read about our safari in Tsavo East.
For the Beach Lover: Anguilla
I grew up in California, and I have spent time on the beaches of Honduras, Hawaii, Mexico and Rio de Janeiro, checked out acclaimed stretches of sand in the Virgin Islands, and gotten a European beach fix at spots along the Mediterranean. None of those compare to Anguilla when it comes to destinations for beach lovers. I may be biased, but the white sand beaches, vibrant turquoise waters and utter tranquility are hard to beat. Add great music and a fabulous dining scene and you have a recipe for the ultimate beach break.
Read about our boat trip in Anguilla to see our beach hopping experience.
For a Romantic Getaway: The Amalfi Coast
None of my travels in general have necessarily been intended to be romantic. I’ve done trips with friends and with family, trips focused on adventure and on culture, and even my travels with my husband haven’t historically been romantic getaways. That being said, there are some destinations that can’t help but appeal to your romantic side, and the Amalfi Coast tops that list. The setting is one of the most beautiful in the world: colorful houses carefully perched on the iconic hillside with brightly-hued boats dotting the beach. With the warmth of summer, it’s the perfect place for a leisurely lunch or dinner al fresco.
Runners Up: French Basque Country; Sonoma County, California
For the Nature Lover: Brazil
When your trip starts in a place as magical and awe-inspiring as Iguaçu Falls, it can’t help but be top of mind as a nature-focused locale. Brazil is much more than that, of course, but nature lovers won’t be disappointed with what the country has on offer. In my opinion, Iguaçu Falls is a must (give it enough time to enjoy properly!), and Rio’s stunning landscapes provide breathtaking views. Enjoy the acclaimed beach scene like a true carioca or spend your time in Tijuca National Park, a rainforest within Rio’s borders. While we personally explored the Peruvian side of the Amazon River, those looking to embark on an Amazonian excursion can enjoy and adventure on the river in Brazil, undoubtedly a bucket list experience!
For the Culture Seeker: Jerusalem, Israel
Jerusalem is my favorite city in the world. Of all of the adventures and travel styles outlined here, I would categorize myself as a culture seeker if I had to limit myself to a single category. For those on the hunt for the ultimate in cultural immersion, there’s no greater city than Jerusalem. It’s incredibly complex and layered with religious, cultural, and historical components. Add to the mix an avant-garde Jerusalemite culture and it becomes of a city of immense contrasts and depth, not rivaled by any other earthly place. Visit the Old City, with its bustling and vibrant markets. Follow Jesus’ footsteps on Via Dolorosa. Visit the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount. Visit the city’s museums including the must-see Holocaust Museum for an emotional but incredible journey. Delve into a market-cum-nightlife stronghold at Mahane Yehuda Market. There’s no shortage of options for the curious traveler, and lots of great tours available from Jerusalem to explore Israel further afield and to delve into the lesser-trafficked West Bank.
Read my take on Media vs. Reality on travel to the Middle East.
For the Hotel Aficionado: Birkenhead House, Hermanus, South Africa
Hermanus’ Birkenhead House is a destination in and of itself. Located on South Africa’s rugged coast, the town of Hermanus is a gem of a destination and the Birkenhead House is the perfect place to take in the wild landscape with the ultimate in creature comforts. With around 10 total rooms, the property feels more like a luxe home than it does a hotel, and the friendly staff and excellent service make it feel like you’re visiting friends. The property manages to blend utter luxury with approachability; something that can be hard to achieve but an art that they’ve mastered. The rates are all inclusive, but the Birkenhead House takes the idea of an all inclusive property to the next level with incredible locally sourced cuisine, innovative hand-crafted cocktails, and a great selection of South African wines. Perfection barely describes it.
For a City Buzz: New York City
Plain and simple: you cannot beat New York for the ultimate city break. Like the world’s greatest cities, there’s an exceptional food and wine scene, fabulous options for art and culture lovers, live music and buzzy nightlife, great public transportation access, and endless options available for all ages and interests. And while I prefer London (added historical layer) and San Francisco (more familiar and laid back) as far as cities go, there’s no disputing that New York provides more of a city buzz for those looking for a fix.
Runners Up: London, San Francisco
For Off-the-Grid Getaways: Judean Desert, Palestinian Territories
The idea of getting off the grid is a rather difficult feat for me. I have a hard time fully disconnecting even in the most inspiring of destinations, and in a world where wifi is easily accessed we can’t help but be constantly connected. A destination that’s off-the-grid in every way possible? The Judean Desert. We went off roading with Nir from Hidden Valley Tours and not for a moment did I want to be connected. Imagine monasteries carved into mountainsides, fresh springs bursting from rocky hillsides, camels crossing the road, and mosques sprouting up out of the desert landscape. For the traveler, it’s a place that forces you to disconnect from technology and reconnect with your natural surroundings.
For the History Buff: Rome, Italy
Rome is a living, breathing museum; in my opinion, the ultimate escape for the history buff. The Colosseum, Roman Forum and the Pantheon are great starting points, but the city is replete with historical landmarks that bring history books to life. Add to it a mythical layer of pre-Christian times, stunning old world architecture, and Bernini’s artwork strewn about for added impact. Venture outside of Rome’s technical borders and enter Vatican City where a unique history exists with an incredible papal legacy that intrigues even the non-religious.
Read about our hop on hop off tour in Rome.
For the Art Lover: Paris
In a city that birthed the likes of Claude Monet and Paul Gauguin, and boasts museums as famous as the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, Paris is a natural draw for art lovers the world over. But it’s not just the art museums that make Paris a draw for art devotees, it’s the city itself. The city is a veritable masterpiece in its own design, with cathedrals, palaces and grandiose buildings lining the Seine.
Read up on how to spend 24 hours in Paris.
Runners Up: Rome, Florence
For the Budget Traveler: Honduras
Envision a place with undisturbed beaches, lush forests, amazing wildlife, incredible adventure options and comfortable accommodations. Now imagine paying a mere $35 a day for a private cabin near the lake, and enjoying hour-long massages for $12. Yeah, those things exist in Honduras. The country gets a bad rap due to its tumultuous history – much of Central America fits this profile – but it’s begun the process of finding its niche in the tourism industry. There are pockets that are better than others; for us, our time on the coast in Tela and on Lago de Yojoa provided gorgeous contrasts and indelible memories without breaking the bank.
For a Boating Experience: Virgin Islands
No surprise here, the Virgin Islands are hard to beat as far as boating destinations go. Islands sit in close proximity to one another, each with their own personality and their own beach bar options to keep the Caribbean-inspired cocktails flowing. Charter a boat for a day trip or take the plunge and sail around the islands for 7 – 10 days.
Read about our day sail to Jost van Dyke.
Runners Up: Greece