As New Year 2016 approaches, most people begin to think about the highlights of 2015. This is why Dreams in Heels decided to partner with 15 other travel bloggers and ask them to share their best travel moment of 2015! Hopefully this will spark ideas for your next travel destinations for 2016.
1. THE TRAVEL SISTERS – YAMANOUCHI, JAPAN
Japan is one of our favorite countries to visit as it never disappoints. From sumo matches to geisha spotting to bunny rabbit cafes, many of our favorite travel moments happened in Japan. Unsurprisingly, our 2015 visit was no exception. On this trip, we ventured to Jigokudani Yaen Koen (aka Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park) to visit the famous Japanese snow monkeys. The entire experience was delightful. We stayed at an amazing nearby ryokan and hiked a beautiful snow covered trail to reach the main attraction- a group of Japanese Macaques known for their red faces and hot spring antics. Basically, groups of monkeys relax, run around and play in an onsen (Japanese bath) just inches away from visitors. We wholeheartedly recommend this experience to anyone as it is a pretty darn adorable thing to witness. Although you can visit year round, winter is definitely the best time to view these charming snow monkeys as true “snow monkeys”.
– Matilda, The Travel Sisters
2. MILLIEGOES – ICELAND
2015 has been a tough year for me, but it hasn’t stopped me from checking off one of my top bucket list destinations: Iceland. I had been determined to hit the island nation since I was 17 and our school trip here was cancelled. Iceland is well known for its striking landscapes, geothermal harnessing and, of course, the Northern Lights. Due to its location, it is one of the top places to go to see the Aurora Borealis in all their glory as for many months of the year there are longer nights equating to more opportunities to see the dancing lights above your head.
I cannot describe the pure joy I felt when we were lucky enough to not only see the lights, but also have hours just sat below watching them move across the sky. They literally do seem to dance next to the stars and it is something I will never forget. Very few times in your life do you find that activities or sites better than they are described, but for me nothing could have prepared me for how amazing this was. With 2016 supposedly going to full of solar activity (which causes the lights if you didn’t know), make sure you get yourself to Iceland and enjoy the view! Why wouldn’t you when you’ve also got places like Gullfoss Falls and the Blue Lagoon to enjoy while you’re out there too?
– Millie, Milliegoes
3. THE STYLE AND BEAUTY DOCTOR – GRENADA, CARIBBEAN
I used to think that because my family is from Trinidad and since I’ve been there a bunch of times (you MUST go for Trinidad Carnival), that I didn’t really need to visit any other islands in the Caribbean. I was SO wrong. One of my best friends (who also happens to be my photographer) invited me to visit her family’s home in Grenada post-Christmas earlier this year. This invite came at a GREAT time because just the Christmas before that I was scrolling through my Instagram timeline and it seemed like EVERYBODY was going somewhere tropical—I vowed that the very next year I’d be doing the same. And I did!
Grenada is one of the most naturally preserved islands in all of the Caribbean. Its lush green landscapes and beautiful crystal-clear waters have placed Grenada high on my list of favorite places to visit. There’s an unlimited amount of things to do there (I outlined nine here) but if I was forced to give just three, I’d say a tour around the island is a must (you’ll see why they call Grenada the Spice Island), a trip to Grand Anse Beach (it’s the island’s largest and you’ll find snorkeling or scuba diving to the Underwater Sculpture Park to be life-changing), great drinks and small bites at Bananas bar, and a host of luxurious resorts), and getting a sampling of all the amazing food the island has to offer.
I’d suggest giving yourself at least a week there—more if you can. You’ll get there and never want to leave. I’m typically not one to visit one place more than once, but I’ll definitely be back for more Grenada.
– Danielle, Style and Beauty Doctor
Photo credit: Nasilele Photography
4. THE THOUGHT CARD – BAÑOS, ECUADOR
My favorite travel moment in 2015 was whitewater rafting in Ecuador. Since rafting is quite expensive in New York, I didn’t think that I would be able to check this off my bucket list anytime soon. However, the perfect opportunity presented itself when my friends and I traveled to Baños, the adventure capital of Ecuador. As we pushed the raft into the Pastaza River and I jumped inside, my heart swelled with joy and excitement, this was finally happening!
When I wasn’t paddling down the river, I was admiring the lush green mountains of the Amazon. The river was so powerful that it a created a thunderous sound as rocks rolled past each other on the riverbed. I especially enjoyed playing daring games inside the raft, and although I was very careful, my guide playfully pushed me into the water many times. I can still feel the thrill thinking about that day.
Ecuador is a fantastic destination to visit in 2016. This small country is packed with adventure, culture and nature. You can easily spend more than a week here and even though I visited in August, I can imagine anytime of the year would just as good.
– Danielle, The Thought Card
5. GIRLS LOVE TRAVEL – AFRICA
In August I went for the first time to Africa! I was able to explore the beautiful country of South Africa with shark cage diving, ostrich riding, abseiling down Table Mountain, Big 5 safari in Kruger National park and wonderful wine tasting in Stellenbosch!
Then I jetted up to Zambia / Zimbabwe to explore Victoria Falls. While there I took the leap and did the Big 3: zipline, bungee jump and free fall from the bridge connecting the two countries and all over the water! This was my 1st ever bungee jump… and when the cable recoiled up and back down – I lost a SHOE! So tip to all readers – if you ever decide to bungee, either go barefoot or tie your laces really tight!
It was great to have gone in late August because it was low season. That meant cheaper prices, less people, easier to see the animals during safari, and a huge plus was very few bugs! I didn’t even have to get any shots or take malaria medication!
– Haley, Girls Who Travel
6. A WORLD TO TRAVEL – KOMODO ISLAND, INDONESIA
Although I already wrote a thoroughly post on my blog about why I had the time of my life island hopping around Komodo National Park, in Indonesia, a couple of months back, I will never get tired of writing about this destination and how good I was treated there.
From the pristine and turquoise waters that surround the West Flores archipelago to the world class diving and snorkeling options, the endless stunning landscapes and the unique species you can get to see there (Komodo dragon anyone?), I would recommend Komodo to everyone looking for a faraway place out of this world but still affordable and very easy to wander around.
What are you waiting for?
– Inma, A World to Travel
7. TRACY’S NEW YORK LIFE – QUITO, ECUADOR
I’d wanted to visit South America for a long time, so when I had the opportunity to travel to Ecuador this past November, I was ecstatic and counting the days until my departure. On this first trip, I would immerse myself in the culture, become acquainted with the history, taste the food, and meet and mingle with the wonderful people of this beautiful country.
I experienced many memorable moments on my week-long trip, but the morning I arrived in Quito and walked into my room at the Plaza Grande Hotel, I felt like I had reached a significant milestone. After being awake for more than 24 hours, my enthusiasm conquered my exhaustion. Perhaps I was running on adrenaline? Not sure, but sleep wasn’t a consideration.
When I opened the suite’s casement windows, something clicked. As I stood in my hotel room peeking over city rooftops, I saw a magnificent view of downtown Quito. I took a deep breath. Not only was I thrilled to inhale all that Ecuador has to offer, but also, I realized at that moment that this trip would begin a new chapter in my life. A chapter in which I would explore a part of the world I hadn’t before, an eye-opening seven days that would be my first trip to South America, but not my last.
– Tracy Kaler, Tracy’s New York Life
8. JONIS TRAVELLING – CUSCO, PERU
I was on the road for the whole of 2015 and saw so many amazing places. One of the highlights was Machu Picchu, a place I’d dreamed about visiting since I saw photos of it as a kid. We got up early to beat the crowds, which meant we had the old city (which was covered in clouds) almost all to ourselves. The clouds eventually lifted and the crowds arrived, and that’s when we got that iconic view of the stone city surrounded by jagged green peaks. The combination of history and stunning nature is hard to beat – Machu Picchu is definitely one place you don’t want to miss in South America. My girlfriend and I visited Machu Picchu in late September, exactly a year after we set off on our round the world trip, which included Europe, Morocco, Nepal, New Zealand, Hawaii and an 8 month overland trip from Mexico City to Patagonia.
– Jon, Jonis Travelling
9. AM I NEARLY THERE YET – HIMACHAL PRADESH, INDIA
India has always been a massive destination on our bucket list! We were lucky enough to visit this incredible again in 2015! India definitely pulls no punches when it comes to in-your-face adventure! It’s a country of huge contrasts, with the world’s highest number of billionaires, mixed with areas of high rural poverty – but there’s nowhere as incredible when it comes to cultural & spiritual diversity.
India is one of those great destinations that can be visited all year around thanks to its mixed climate. In the same visit, you can head to Goa or Kerala for a session of sun worship and beach yoga, then escape the heat and head north to the Indian Himalayan region… explore rolling tea plantations, visit incredible monasteries (http://aminearlythereyet.com/travel-photo-of-the-day-ki-monastary-in-the-spiti-valley/) and trek some of the highest mountains in the world! One of our highlights was visiting the Ki Monastery in Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh. India should be on every traveler’s 2016 bucket list!
– Stu & Eloise, Am I Nearly There Yet
10. MY ADVENTURES ACROSS THE WORLD – CENTRAL JAVA, INDONESIA
Looking back at 2015, I feel quite happy as I have plenty of good travel memories. I have visited many countries this year, some of them for the first time and others where I have returned to the second or even third time. 2015 finally took me to South East Asia, a continent that I was eager to explore but had neglected for too long. I traveled there in October, and although it was meant to be the start of the rainy season, during my three weeks in Indonesia not a drop of rain fell.
If I had to pick my favorite travel moment of 2015, this would be watching sunrise from Borobudur temple in Indonesia. The effort of having to wake up at 3 am and walk up the temple and its many stairs when it was still pitch dark was totally worth it. The sun started appearing on the horizon making the entire site magically glow and giving it a special aura. It was breathtaking.
– Claudia, My Adventures Across the World
11. WHERE IN THE WORLD IS NINA? – OREGON
My highlight trip this year was probably my few weeks in Oregon, my boyfriend’s home state. I went on an amazing hike through Smith Rock State Park where the views are absolutely breathtaking! We road tripped to Crater Lake which is one of the cleanest and clearest lakes in the world and deepest in the USA!
I ate at Voodoo Donuts, a staple place to visit in Portland, as well as saw the beloved Multnomah Falls, an epic landmark and stunning waterfall.
But the biggest *two* reasons this trip was my highlight of 2015 was because I got to check two firsts off my bucket list!
It was my first time on the West Coast of the USA ( I haven’t been passed Texas!!!) And despite being 30 years old, it was also my first time seeing snow. I KNOW! Crazy! Oregon was my first – twice! It’s a stunning state and I can’t wait to return.
– Nina, Where in the World is Nina?
12. TRIPPING WITH TERRI – NORWAY
Consistently ranked as one of the happiest places on earth, Norway is my No. 1 destination. Renowned for its majestic mountains, fabulous fjords and rugged beauty, Norway has attracted adventure lovers for years. While the country’s landscape is truly a treasure, the cities of Norway are equally intriguing. It’s hard to pick a favorite place in Norway, but here are a few highlights:
Trondheim is the cultural center of the Trøndelag region. This picturesque city with its timber built fisherman warehouses of red, gold, brown and green flanking the sides of the Nidelva River is a fascinating contrast of old and new. Here I climbed the medieval steps to the top of the majestic Nidaros Cathedral. I even became a rock star for a day at Rockheim.
After a devastating fire in 1906, Ålesund was rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style that was prevalent at the time. Strolling through the charming yellow, salmon, blue and rose buildings ornamented with a myriad of turrets, spires, medieval ornaments and dragons, it’s easy to see why Ålesund was recently voted the most beautiful town in Norway.
And then there is Røros where I attended the ancient festival, Rørosmartnan. For over 150 years traders from all over Norway have harnessed their horses to sleighs and traveled across frozen lakes and rivers through snow blanketed forests to arrive for opening day – and I was there for that day. Pure magic.
– Terri Marshall, Tripping with Terri
13. GYPSY COUPLE – DARJEELING, INDIA
Darjeeling, popularly called Queen of the Hills (home to the UNESCO heritage Himalayan Railways) and its world famous Tea gardens stayed unticked on our bucket list despite us having grown up only an overnight train journey away. Taking a ride on the Toy train (as the Darjeeling Himalayan railway is called by tourists and locals alike) covers the batasia loop offering enchanting views of the Kanchenjunga range of the Himalayas. This was simply our magic moment of 2015.
While our trip to Darjeeling was in June 2015, the best time to visit is between September to November or February to April to beat the crowds.
– Rishabh & Nirali, Gypsy Couple
14. #LJOJLO – LOMBOK, INDONESIA
Without a doubt my favorite travel moment of 2015 was sharing the joy of Lombok, Indonesia with close friends. Lombok is Bali’s lesser known neighborhood and is a magical place of relaxation for me. Staying at a private villa on the mountains overlooking the island of Bali is something special. The three bedroom villa with private pool makes it a perfect spot for group travel. In 2015 I travelled there in April and found it stunning with it only raining occasionally. I have also travelled there in January and also had no troubles.
The island of Lombok itself is laid back and relatively quite in comparison to the hustle and bustle of Bali. Don’t let that fool you into thinking there is nothing to do because that is certainly not the case. From snorkelling, waterfalls, surfing and cultural experiences there really is something for everyone with maybe one exception, partying. Please note if you want to party I would either stay in Bali or visit the island just off Lombok, Gili Trawangan known as Gili T because that is where the party is at. Otherwise if relaxation in a quieter, lesser known place tickles your fancy make sure you head over to the magical island of Lombok.
– Lauren, #ljojlo (the beginners travel guide)
15. MCCOOL TRAVEL – AJACCIO, CORSICA
My best travel moment of 2015 was being treated to a multi-course feast by Anthony Mauboussin, the head chef of Viking Cruises, and his team. Earlier that day, Anthony led our small group through the local farmer market in Ajaccio, Corsica, selecting high quality and super fresh ingredients for our special meal. After the morning market visit, my wife and I explored Corsica with a tour and then spent time on a Mediterranean Sea beach (in December!) before our world class dinner that evening. The highlight entree was a seafood bouillabaisse that was visually stunning and totally rocked my world.
– Charles McCool, McCool Travel
As a bonus, I would like to share my best travel moment of 2015…
DREAMS IN HEELS – LUGANO, SWITZERLAND
In 2015, I experienced a love-at-first-sight travel moment when I arrived in Lugano, Switzerland. It may have been the picturesque mountains and lake view from my balcony at The Splendide Royal Hotel. But it really happened while I was taking a boat ride around beautiful Lake Lugano. It was like something from a movie, its perfection appearing almost invented. I had a sense of freedom and joy while enjoying the views, posing for and reviewing my photos. The captain of the boat caught me during my ‘titanic’ moment and even came out to offer me his hat for the picture. The prize at the end of this boat ride is the Grotto San Rocco, a beautiful local restaurant located right by the Lake.
As you know, there’s a strong connection between food and love. Well, through its delicious food, this Mediterranean region of Switzerland tugs right at your heartstrings. This local restaurant not only has the best views of the Lake, but also touts the most delectable food. I sampled many appetizers and my favorite by far was the fig salad, which was one of the best salads I’ve ever had! The fig showcased is locally grown (in their backyard) and the goat cheese is from the area too. As an accompaniment, the traditional Italian lemon liqueur, Limoncello, and the grape-based pomace brandy, Grappa, were to die for. A must try! I cannot even begin to comment on the varied delicious desserts to choose from, such as sorbets, amazing fresh fruit and chocolate cakes. This experience is a recipe for true love! Hint: Make sure to have your passport at the ready in case you’d like to take a spontaneous day trip; across the border, Como, Italy is only 20 minutes away and Milan is approximately 45 minutes by car.
If your new year’s resolution is to travel more, I hope that these recommendations have inspired you to explore the world beyond your front door.
Share with us below your best travel moment of 2015!