Belmond Hotel das Cataratas

Top Destination Highlights from 2015

2015 was a  whirlwind year filled with some incredible adventures, taking us from places like Brazil and Argentina to Basque Country and Ireland. I recently recapped my top 10 travel memories from 2015, one of my favorite exercises to close out the year, but thought I’d share some highlights, comparisons and contrasts from this year’s destination round-up since our travels were rather diverse. Check out the gold medal winners from our journeys:

For a Family Adventure: Ireland

Top Destinations for Family Travel

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.

Honorable Mention: Las Vegas

For a Food & Wine Scene: Basque Country

Top Destinations for Food and Wine

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.

For the Adventure Lover: Honduras

Best Destinations for Adventure

I was stunned by the sheer amount of activities available for adventure lovers in Honduras. It boasts offerings similar to that of Costa Rica (think rainforest treks, zip lining, boating, kayaking), but with far fewer visitors and at a lower price point. During many of our activities, we were the only people involved. Plus, we partook in adventures that were incredibly memorable including a waterfall tour that took us behind a waterfall plus a spelunking adventure in one of two accessible cave systems in the country.

Read about our experience at Pulhapanzak Waterfall in Honduras.

Honorable Mention: Brazil

For the Beach Lover: Anguilla

Best Destinations for the Beach Lover

We spent time on the coast in Honduras, checked out beaches in Puerto Rico, soaked up sun in the Virgin Islands and got a European beach fix in St. Jean de Luz and San Sebastian. 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: French Basque Country

Best Destinations for a Romantic Getaway

None of our travels this year were necessarily intended to be romantic. We did trips with friends and with family, trips focused on adventure and on culture, but none really focused on romance as such. That being said, French Basque Country can’t help but be romantic. It’s charming in every way and the medieval French architecture is a throw back to Disney fairy tales that make any traveler feel like they’ve been transported in time. We sipped local wines, enjoyed a picnic lunch in St. Jean-Pied-de-Port and stumbled into one quaint store after another in the small Basque towns dotting the French countryside. Très romantique.

Read about 4 towns to visit in Pays Basque.

For the Nature Lover: Brazil

Top Destinations for the Nature Lover

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. For those venturing further afield, try Brazil’s islets or cruise the Amazon to be one with nature.

Read about must have experiences at Iguassu Falls, plus scope out the views at Sugarloaf Mountain.

Honorable Mention: Honduras

For the Hotel Aficionado: Belmond Hotel das Cataratas

Best Destinations for the Hotel Aficionado

Belmond’s Hotel das Cataratas in Iguassu Falls is so fabulous that it almost topped my most romantic destinations list. The hotel is a destination in and of itself and ranks as my favorite hotel in the world. The hotel is perfection from a decor and vibe standpoint, the location within the park’s borders is unbeatable, and the service is impeccable. A must while you’re there? Grab a caipirinha with your choice of cachaca in the old world bar (a nightly ritual for us). I dare you to only have one.

Read about our experience at Hotel das Cataratas.

For a Boating Experience: Virgin Islands

Top Destinations for Boating

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.

For the Budget Traveler: Honduras

Top Destinations for the Budget Traveler

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 violent 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.

Read about Tela, Honduras and our time at Lago de Yojoa.

Next year will bring some interesting new journeys for us, taking us to a variety of new destinations with a slew of new experiences to be had. Stay tuned – I’ll be outlining our upcoming adventures that will be landing us in unexplored parts of Central America and lesser-traveled parts of Africa!

What were your highlights from your 2015 travels?

Shannon Kircher, The Wanderlust Effect

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. Additionally, Shannon is the founder of Compass & Vine, a luxury boutique travel design firm, and is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort. Shannon holds an MSc in Social Policy and Development from the London School of Economics and is a current candidate for WSET Level 3 in Wines & Spirits.