Where to travel (and eat) in 2017
As we settle into the new year, most people are busy making (and trying to keep) exciting resolutions. We’re busy making travel plans.
A January ritual, I love to reminisce about where we’ve been and daydream about where we’d like to go. While a trip to Hawaii and another visit to Mexico are on the books, we’re also considering returning to some of the spots we’ve already explored because they might not be around for much longer — at least not in the same way.
They’re the best kept secrets, the less traveled roads and the ones threatened by overdevelopment. Some are disappearing off the face of the earth altogether. These are the places I encourage you to go.
So here’s the thing about this island nation: It’s sinking. If that’s not reason enough to visit now (and I mean right now), maybe you could be swayed by this underwater restaurant, where you can dine on lobster rolls and angus beef while watching the fishies swim above you. We stayed at the Four Seasons thanks to family connections. Yet there are many eco resorts with conservation in mind that cater to all sorts of budgets. In fact, more than two dozen new resorts have recently opened or are set to open this year. We hear that the Filhahoi Island Resort and the Kuredu are two great affordable options. The most expensive part is getting there.
While most people think of Brazil when planning an Amazon visit, the Amazon basin also extends to Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia. We found Bolivia was the best choice to explore the Amazon, as it’s cheaper and there’s no risk of malaria in the jungle around Rurrenabaque, which is the launch point for several different tours of the wetlands. Here you have a greater chance of seeing animals, since they’re not hidden in the trees. We spotted monkeys, alligators, pink dolphins (which are uglier than they sound) and a variety of birds. For food, we fried up the the piranhas we caught earlier that day. (Did I mention that it’s cheap?)
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Climate change and rising sea temperatures also have wrecked havoc on the coral and sea creatures living within Australia’s 1,430-mile long Great Barrier Reef. It’s the world’s largest living organism and one that’s disappearing fast. During a 5-day sailing and scuba diving trip with Wings Australia (where we feasted on everything but fish), our guide mentioned that every year he sees fewer fish and dulling coral. While there are plenty of conservation efforts aimed at turning things around, now is the time to explore this natural wonder.
Langtang Region, Nepal
About 40 miles north of Kathmandu, this region of Nepal is less traveled than others. Tourism has been especially slow since an earthquake in 2015 wiped out several villages in the region. But according to our local guide, many places have been rebuilt and there are spectacular new trails to get the most epic views. Plan to subsist on a diet of dal bhat — which is basically lentil stew over white rice — and venture as far away from humanity you could ever imagine.
Koh Lipe, Thailand
The most southern island in Thailand, Koh Lipe hadn’t made it into any travel guides when we discovered it five years back. Just as stunning as Koh Phi Phi (where we learned that sewage is being pumped into the water) and smaller than Koh Tao, this laidback and friendly island is the place to go to really disconnect, get solid beach time and hang out with friendly locals, as well as travelers who want to do more than just party their faces off. We stayed in the bungalows at Bila Beach, where the owners are still around to cook some stellar Thai curries and tend to their guests. (Check out a recipe I brought back with me here).
Puerto Lopez, Ecuador
When most people travel to Ecuador, they B-line for the Galapagos. But if you don’t want to compete for views with hoards of other travelers, this little fishing village makes for a sweet trip. I spent four weeks here doing conservation work on an island off the coast that hosts several different species of birds and wildlife. There’s also whale watching tours during certain seasons and some of the best ceviche I’ve ever tasted.
I’m convinced that Portugal is Europe’s best kept secret. For starters, it’s gorgeous — almost like a prettier (and way warmer) version of San Francisco. There’s amazing food and it’s cheaper than most other countries in Europe because of a bad recession. A trip down the coast to Olhao will take you back in time. It’s also the best place to eat fresh fish.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Warm, charming and filled with amazing spicy food, Hoi An topped our list of favorite places in Vietnam. You can rent bikes to get around and squat over benches on the sidewalk to eat cao lau, the city’s signature street food dish. The locals are so friendly that we got invited for an impromptu beer twice over a weekend stay.
Morro de Sao Paulo, Brazil
This little island off the coast of northern Brazil is what beach dreams are made of. It’s like postcard pretty. And there are parties every night of the week. Do you know of any other place that throws a party everyday? So, this is probably the most touristy of the list, but it’s still not a place most Americans think of when booking a trip to Brazil. But you absolutely should. There are plenty of nice accommodations and the food scene on the beach is killer.
Marlborough, New Zealand
While I consider all of New Zealand to be stunning and totally worth a visit, the southern wine region is the place for farm-to-table aficionados. There are dozens of small farms and farm stands selling fresh produce, seafood and wild game, as well as rows and rows of grapes that produce the country’s best wine. We threw ourselves a little picnic with some local cheese and a bottle of something crisp and white.