Top 13 Travel Surprises of 2016 (that may inspire your 2017 travels) + VIDEO
Wow. I really have a problem. I am a full-blown travel addict. Acceptance is the first step to recovery, right?
I didn’t think I could top last year’s adventures but my travel addiction took control and I went to far more places than I ever imagined!
In 2016, I visited 14 countries, 11 of them new countries, and 3 continents. The 3 repeat countries? My top 3 favourite countries in the world: Italy, Croatia, and Greece! I’ll never get sick of them.
I ended the year with a bang with an unexpected trip to Australia and New Zealand, my dream trip! I jumped on an error fare from LAX to Auckland, New Zealand for $216 round-trip. That is UNHEARD of. I got lucky on that one and I could not pass it up. I had been saving for this dream trip for awhile so it worked out perfectly!
Anyway, here are my top 13 destinations that really blew me away in 2016. Hopefully I can inspire some travel to these places in 2017!
Top 13 Travel Surprises of 2016:
Sao Miguel, Azores
Thanks to Anthony Bourdain, I was introduced to the Azores a few years ago and have been so intrigued to go ever since. It wasn’t until 2015 that they opened up budget airlines to fly into the islands so it was the perfect time to go.
If you’re looking for a fairly unspoilt, non-touristy, nature-centered place to visit, the Azores are right for you! Sao Miguel is the biggest island in the Azores and it was honestly the most naturally beautiful place I have ever laid eyes on. I cannot recommend this place enough.
Do not miss:
- Sete Cidades twin lakes– one blue and one green lake surrounded by spectacular greenery and hikes.
- Ponta da Ferraria-a hot pool connected to the ocean.
- Lagoa do Fogo-hike down to the bottom if you have time for crystal clear waters.
- Caldeira Velha-natural hot springs in the middle of the jungle.
- Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes– a free natural park with pretty waterfalls.
- Dona Beija Thermal Springs-a series of hot pool jacuzzis in a beautiful and relaxing setting.
⇒For a detailed 4-day itinerary, check out my article: Why Sao Miguel, Azores Will Blow Your Mind: The Ultimate 4-Day Itinerary
Victoria Falls, Africa
Victoria Falls really blew me away. Victoria falls lies between Zambia and Zimbabwe in Africa, and is listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world. Did you know that Victoria Falls is also the biggest waterfall in the world (based on width)? I sure as hell didn’t until I was face to face with this amazing natural wonder.
Also a huge surprise was that Victoria Falls is a mini adventure capital. There were SO many adventure activities on offer, we didn’t have enough time to even scratch the surface. From bungee jumping, to high wire activities, to scenic flights over the falls, the amount of fun you can have in this place is endless.
Do not miss:
- Microlight flight over the falls (one of the most incredible activities I have ever done in my life).
- Devil’s pool (where you can sit on top of the edge of the waterfall..no joke).
- The gorge swing and the flying fox.
*Stay tuned for 2 posts about this destination coming soon!
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town was my favorite city I visited in 2016, hands-down. It literally has everything: awesome hikes, mind-blowing viewpoints, some of the greatest food in the world, nearby wineries, epic road trips, and so much more.
Cape Town is underrated in my opinion and I think you should add it to the top of your 2017 bucket list! It’s INCREDIBLE!
Do not miss:
- Haut Bay market-live music, artisan shops, and endless food vendors.
- Camp’s Bay-the posh beach area reminded me of Malibu, California
- Lion’s Head and Table Mountain.
- Bombay Bicycle-order the Choco-Chilli steak. Don’t, ask, just do it.
- Stellenbosch-take a day and go wine tasting about 45 minutes outside of Cape Town.
- Helicopter tour over Cape Town for the best panoramic views over the city.
- Road trip on the Cape Peninsula.
- Penguin Beach.
Where to Stay in Cape Town:
Derwent House Boutique Hotel. Simply awesome…and super cozy!
⇒Check out my review: Where to Stay in Cape Town: Feeling at Home at Derwent House Boutique Hotel (+Video)
Zanzibar, Tanzania, Africa
My friend Carey and I spent a week in Zanzibar participating in a volunteer project with the incredible RAKlife.org helping to rebuild some houses for those in need. Not only did we get to help make a difference, but we got to spend time in one of the most beautiful places in the world: ZANZIBAR!
The high/low tides in Paje, Zanzibar were unlike anything I had ever seen. During low tide, you could literally walk a mile out onto the sea bed. Not to mention, the color of the water was unreal. Zanzibar will have some of the prettiest waters you will ever see in this world, and that’s no lie.
Do not miss:
- The Rock Restaurant (basically in the middle of the ocean)-You take a boat to get to it and after the low tide, you walk back to shore. One of the coolest things I have ever seen. Oh, and the food was great too!
- Swimming with wild dolphins (literally)-a 6am start will surely get your adrenaline pumping as you take a small boat out into the sea to search for dolphins. When your guide finds them, you literally jump into the water and swim with them. I can’t even describe the feeling.
- Paje Beach-one of the prettiest beaches I have ever seen. There are also a bunch of chill out cafes near the water with hammocks to enjoy the scenery. It’s a very relaxing place.
I have been to Greece several times as it is one of my favorite countries. But nothing prepared me for what I would see and learn at Meteora. In short, it is a city with monasteries built upon rocky pillars. Meteora translates into “suspended in the sky”…and it definitely lives up to its name. It also became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
The history behind this place is incredible so make sure to take a guided tour to put things into perspective. Another plus is that this region of Greece is pretty cheap so it won’t break the bank.
Do not miss:
- Meteora Sunset Tour-to get the best photo spots in Meteora, this was my fav tour!
- Meteora Hiking Tour-to see the city from the bottom up, it gives a unique perspective.
⇒For more details on Meterora, check out my post: Why You Should Drop Everything & Visit Meteora
Lake Ohrid, Macedonia
Who knew the oldest lake in Europe would be one of my favorite destinations of 2016? It’s not really a place on most people’s radars, and as a result, it’s not overrun by mass tourism. BINGO. That’s probably why I enjoyed it so much. You can reach it easily with a 3-hour bus ride from Skopje.
Go to Lake Ohrid for a more peaceful and relaxing trip with great scenery. Also a plus is how cheap everything is there, especially accommodations. I got an entire apartment to myself on Airbnb for $24/night. Ahhh, I love Eastern Europe.♥
Do not miss:
Saint John at Kaneo-a monastery perched upon the cliff overlooking the lake and picturesque AF.
If you know anything about me, you know my favorite country in the world is Italy. I always say I could spend my whole life discovering all of Italy. And that I plan on doing :). Sardinia did not disappoint and has the most consistently beautiful beaches I have ever seen in my life. Period.
I explored solo for 8 days by car and it was one of my favourite trips of the year. Sardinia is very rugged and naturally beautiful, and not to mention HUGE. In 8 days I was only able to see the Northeast of the Island so I definitely plan on going back to see more.
Do not miss:
- Cala Goloritze-hands-down one of the prettiest beaches in the world. So much so that the beach itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It requires a 1.5 hour hike through the woods (each way), but 100% worth it. I had the whole entire beach to myself (although it was a cloudy day, it was still gorgeous).
- La Maddalena Peninsula-I took my car on the ferry over to La Maddalena and drove around the small little island. The water there was the prettiest blue/green contrasted waters on the whole island of Sardinia.
- Costa Smeralda-very posh and expensive but worth a stop.
- Capriccioli Beach-made up of 4 small half-cresent beaches and turquoise waters.
- Orosei Coast for the best natural beaches on the island.
Where to Stay in Sardinia:
Ecofriendly Luxury Huts at L’essenza, Sardinia-one of the most unique places I have ever stayed. Who wouldn’t want to stay in a luxury teepee surrounded by cats and greenery?
Su Gologone: the prettiest and most colourful boutique hotel I have ever stayed in. It’s an art lover’s dream and the perfect place for total seclusion from the outside world.
⇒Check out my reviews of these properties here:
Ecofriendly Luxury Huts at L’essenza, Sardinia
Su Gologone: A Secluded Oasis Igniting the Inner Creative in You
Lisbon-the spicy capital of Portugal with so much to offer. The colourful city is a photographer’s absolute dream and I had so much fun exploring, despite all the steep hills!
Algarve- a region in the south of Portugal with some of the best beaches in Europe. And finally some sandy beaches in Europe, woohoo!
Do not miss:
- Hike up to the Miradouro or “viewpoints” for the best panoramic views over the city.
- Alfama and Bairro Alto neighborhoods for photo ops and great restaurants.
- TimeOut Market– a gourmet food market with some of the best chefs and many vendors to choose from.
- Carmo Convent-a church without a roof. Where else can you see that?
- Day Trips to Sintra, Quinta da Regaleira, and Cascais are absolute musts!
⇒For more details on Lisbon, check out my post: What To Do in Lisbon: A Fun-Filled 3-Day Itinerary (+Day Trips)
Although I had quite the rocky time in Morocco, I couldn’t leave the amazing “blue city” off this list. I had been teased by unreal Instagram photos of this place for what seemed like forever. I couldn’t take it anymore and just had to see for myself.
Chefchaouen exceeded my expectations. It might just be the most picturesque city I’ve ever been to. The location nudged between the Rif Mountains only adds to it’s secluded beauty. It’s a little out of the way to get to, but it was by far my favorite place in Morocco and if you go to only one city, make it this one!
⇒For more on my time in Morocco, check out: Solo Female Travel in Morocco: Yay or Nay? and Why I Have a Love/Hate Relationship with Morocco: Highlights & Lowlights
Do not miss:
- Getting lost in the maze like streets.
- Taking endless photos of kitties.
- Go to the Spanish Mosque at sunset for the best views.
- Shop and bargain for leather goods and pashmina scarves.
- Eat at Molin Arte near waterfalls or Cafe Morisco in the main square.
Safari in Kruger National Park
Going on a safari at Kruger National Park in South Africa was not only one of the top 5 travel moments ever, it was probably one of the top 5 highlights of my life. No joke. There is nothing comparable to the thrill of being in an open vehicle and being encountered by the animals in the wild. I’m not going to lie, at some moments, I was scared AF, but that just added to the thrill!
The bonus…we saw the BIG FIVE twice in 3 days!
If you don’t have a safari on your bucket list, put it up by the top! It’s amazing! And not as expensive as you might think. More on my safari adventure with details coming up soon!
Getting to finally see the Great Barrier Reef up close and swim in it was a complete dream come true. It was at the top of my bucket list and it didn’t disappoint. I must say it was a little scary to swim with all the possible deadly animals in the GBR, namely sharks and stingers. But hey, YOLO!
Do not miss:
- Day trip to the Outer Great Barrier Reef + Michaelman’s Cay.
- Day trip to Fitzroy island-a relaxing a quiet island with lots of water activities and hikes.
- Day trip to Cape Tribulation/Port Douglas-the costal views on the way up are worth it alone.
Whitsundays (Whitehaven Beach)
Whitehaven Beach may just be the prettiest beach in the world. At least it was the prettiest beach I had ever seen! The magnificent swirls of white sand contrasted with the turquoise waters was like nothing I had ever seen. Also interesting is that the pattern of swirls changes every 3-4 hours so you will never take the same picture twice.
Do not miss:
- Make sure to take a day tour and see the Hill Inlet. This is not included on every tour so make sure your company goes there! This is where you get to hike up and see that spectacular view mentioned above.
- Scenic flight over the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef for a different perspective.
New Zealand (all of it!)
I couldn’t pick just one city in New Zealand because everywhere I went was spectacular. The highlights of my trip were bungee jumping for the first time ever in Queenstown, biking through wine country, and visiting the Hobbiton Movie Set on the north island.
New Zealand is for nature lovers and I cherished my time there. It’s definitely a place I would go back to. And the exchange rate was very good so it was quite affordable.
Do not miss:
- Bungee jumping in Queenstown, the home of bungee!
- Hobbiton movie set.
- Wine tasting on Waiheke island.
- Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.
- Waitomo Glow worm caves.
Tip: you can only visit Hobbiton on a tour so make sure to buy tickets in advance as they do sell out!
*Stay tuned for a huge post on my highlights of New Zealand soon. In the meantime, here is my bungee jump video:
Where is Crazy Travelista Going in 2017?
That’s a great question. I don’t even know yet myself. Last year I only completed about 50% of my wish list…yet I added 3 huge trips instead to Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Plans are always changing so it’s hard to say.
As of right now, I only have a trip to Lapland, Finland booked in March. Nothing else is planned yet!
But in case you’re wondering, here is my 2017 wish list:
Iran-the homeland! My dad is from Shiraz, Iran, and it would be a dream for me to finally get to see where he came from and to meet a bunch of family over there. In doing my research, I found out that it’s going to be more complicated for me to go than someone who is an American (ironic, huh?).
The Iranian government sees anyone born to an Iranian father as Iranian, regardless of where the mother is from (my mom is from Austria). So that means I must enter on an Iranian passport. Well, my dad came over almost 40 years ago and lost his passport (as he has never returned). So he must track down his birth certificate in Iran first and then reapply for his passport in the USA before I can even think about applying for mine. It’s going to be a long process, but I am determined to get to Iran in 2017! Stay tuned for updates.
I do know for sure that 2017 WILL be the year I set foot on the continent of South America for the first time. How have I not gone here yet? Plane tickets are pretty cheap from Washington, DC, so now is the time to go. It’s high up on the list and I will definitely be making a trip there some time next year. On my radar: Machu Picchu, Salar de Uyuni (salt flats in Bolivia), Brazil, Patagonia, Colombia, and possibly Galapagos.
Also on my radar for 2017: more of South East Asia (Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore) as well as Japan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and possibly India.
I would like to also visit more of the Middle East including Oman, Dubai, Jordan, etc. And no, it doesn’t scare me. I have Middle Eastern blood after all.
Banff National Park, Canada-since Canada is celebrating their 150th anniversary in 2017, they are offering free entrance to all their national parks. I ordered my pass already online so now I must go in 2017 🙂
And it’s also my goal to visit one random AF country in 2017. Like possibly one of the “stan” countries. Maybe I’ll get to see where Borat is from. Haha 🙂
Will I make it to all these places in 2017? Probably not, but I’m aiming for at least 50% like last year. I know for sure I will not be spending much time in Europe in 2017 (insert sad face), although it’s my favorite continent. I need to break away for a while and see what else the world has to offer. There is still SO much to see! So, that being said, cheers to mothaf**kin’ 2017!
Here is my 2016 Travel Recap Video from YouTube:
What were your 2016 highlights? And where are you headed in 2017? I want to know! 🙂
Click photo to PIN for later 🙂