Photo: EYOS Expeditions
Hailed as the last frontier, Antarctica is a vast white wilderness that is home to breathtaking scenery and unique wildlife. Surprisingly, there is a lot to do in the “White Continent”, particularly if you and Hubby have an adventurous streak. Think treks through the snow, glacier hikes, exploring ice caves, observing penguins, whales and fur seals in their natural habitat, and cruising past massive icebergs. You might even get to check out the research stations and talk to the scientists who are based there.
Antarctica is not an easy place to get to, and there are no hotels on the continent, so your best bet is to join an organised cruise. Most travellers opt to depart from ports in Argentina, Australia or New Zealand. The best time to visit Antarctica is during the summer, between November and March, when the continent receives more than 20 hours of daylight and temperatures range from -5 deg C to a little over 10 deg C.
Photo: Nicaraguan Tourism Board
Once associated with political turbulence and crime, this Central American nation was, until recently, not a travel destination by most accounts. Fast forward 15 years, and the land of lakes and volcanoes is undergoing a tourism revolution, as travellers slowly discover what this picturesque country truly has to offer – from pristine beaches to volcanoes, lush rainforests, well-preserved architecture, adventure sports, not to mention affordable food and accommodation.
Whatever your holiday style, you are bound to find something to do while you’re here. Nature lovers and adventure seekers can opt to hike, sail, fish, cycle, kayak or volcano-board, while culture buffs can check out the city of Leon’s many murals, churches, ancient ruins and art museums. Nicaragua is also a sanctuary for foodies and wine connoisseurs, with its countless restaurants and bars spread out across its major cities and towns, like Granada and San Juan del Sur.
If you’re after a laidback holiday, escape to Corn Islands, off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. The enchanting pair of islands – Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island – boast balmy, crystal-clear waters, white sand beaches and underwater caves. A host of water activities are available, from scuba diving to snorkelling, although divers may prefer Little Corn Island for its more diverse dive sites.
Photo: Dave Fleetham/Design Pics/Corbis
Located 906km off the Pacific coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands is home to one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. No surprise then that it inspired English scientist Charles Darwin’s research on evolution.
Accorded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1978, the chain of 19 strikingly varied islands features picturesque beaches on some, and wildlife reserves and active volcanoes on others. However, the Galapagos is truly a haven for nature lovers, who can get up close and observe and interact with the unique wildlife, hike and indulge in water activities. For those who would rather some culture and shopping, head to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island for stores selling souvenirs, clothing, jewellery, ornaments and handicrafts, coffee and chocolate. There are also restaurants, cafes and art galleries where you can while away your day.
Accommodation is plentiful in the Galapagos Islands. Choose from budget hotels and guesthouses, B&Bs, apartments, or swankier beachfront digs.
Photo: Nordic Luxury, Iceland
The great outdoor beckons in this Nordic island. Step outside and marvel at the cinematic natural landscapes before you, from volcanoes to waterfalls, caves, mountains, glaciers, geysers, lava fields and valleys. Or get moving – go mountain biking, horseback riding, caving, kayaking and river rafting amid the panorama. If you’re in the mood to relax, make your way to Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa located about 30 minutes from the capital, Reykjavik. Here, soak in the naturally heated waters and indulge in special therapies to soothe your mind and body. If you’re visiting between end March to end October, sign up for one of the many whale-watching tours available for a marine adventure you won’t soon forget.
Like any modern European city, Reykjavik has no shortage of restaurants, bars, shops and hotels, even if it channels a more laidback vibe. Among the city’s architectural and cultural attractions are its cathedrals and museums, and the Perlan – a Reykjavik landmark and dome-shaped structure from which you can enjoy panoramic views of the city. If you fancy a spot of shopping, check out the flea markets and local designer stores.
Located in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, Iceland is a mere five hours’ flight from Boston, Washington DC and New York.
Photo: Costa Rica Tourism Board
A little touristy and expensive compared to other Central American countries, Costa Rica has lots to offer travellers looking to immerse themselves in nature and experience the local culture.
The best way to experience this tropical paradise is with an ecological tour of the rainforests, waterfall gardens and mountains, where you can get up close with the wildlife and feast your eyes on exotic plants.
The Manuel Antonio National Park, 132km from capital San Jose, has gorgeous white sand beaches and forests, and is home yo a wide range of animal and plant species.
The Hacienda Baru, a national wildlife refuge located on the southern Pacific coast, is another haven for eco-tourists. It’s spread over 330ha with 7km of walking trails. Activities-wise, choose from surfing, sport fishing, hiking, diving, snorkelling, rafting and zip-lining. Coffee lovers can take a coffee plantation tour and witness every step of the coffee production process, and stock up on beans at discounted prices.
San Jose has a few theatres, art galleries and history museums. The Jade Museum deserves special mention, being home to the largest collection of American jade in the world, as well as gold and ceramic exhibits. While you’re there, be sure to explore the historic neighbourhoods where you may chance upon some arresting murals or street buskers just right around the corner.
Photo: Johan Wildhagen/Innovation Norway
This Northern European country is home to several vibrant and cosmopolitan cities, each offering something unique to visitors. The capital, Oslo, features Michelin-star restaurants, and fine theatre and opera performances. Tromso, also known as the Paris of the North, is a great spot from which to witness the magical natural phenomenon that is the Northern Lights between late autumn and early spring. Then there’s Stavanger, the country’s charming port city, with a rich history dating back to the Middle Ages, that will make an ideal stop for history buffs.
If you want to experience 24 hours of daylight, head to Vestvagoy, the second largest of Norway’s Lofoten Islands. From end May to mid-July, you can catch the midnight sun, where the sun peeks out from the horizon at midnight. Make like the locals and head to the western beaches, like Utakleiv and Eggum, for the best view. Vestvagoy is also home to Haukland Sands, which many consider to be Norway’s best and most scenic beach.
Instead of a hotel, why not choose some place exotic to stay in while you’re in Norway? Places like Klepp, Karmoy and Alesund offer accommodation in pretty converted lighthouses. You can also stay in a cosy ski lodge up in the mountains, a spa resort or even a treetop hut in Brumunddal.
This article was originally published in Simply Her April 2015.