Picking our travel itinerary for the year is no easy task. There are so many variables to consider. I'm always torn between whether I want to go on an adventure, or sit on a beach chair enjoying cocktails. Then there's always the vacation day issue... never enough time. My friend Laura, is currently on a permanent vacation (jealous yet?). I have loved following her journey so much, that I thought it was time for her to share a few of her favorite spots with us! Take a peek at her top 5 places to travel to this year, and hopefully this will help you decide where to go next!
CABO POLONIO, URUGUAY
Cabo Polonio is Uruguay’s biggest and best secret, and simply put, it’s pure magic. Mention it to anyone who’s been there, and you’ll see their eyes sparkle and glisten with some of the most delicious memories of a place completely disconnected from the rest of the world, all glowing with the most magical energy I’ve ever felt.
Hidden away in a National Park about 4.5 hours up the coast from Montevideo, Uruguay, it’s a trek to get to. Once you arrive at the gates of the national park, a double-tiered, rugged jeep truck takes you on the bumpiest 30 minute drive of your life through a forest until you get to the beach and turn left, and there it is: a sprinkling of wonky, crooked and colorful houses, each with a personality of their own.
If you google images of Cabo Polonio, you wouldn’t be impressed; I wasn’t. But when you arrive and see the wild birds and horses roaming through the grassy fields, then turn and look at the miles of rolling sand dunes ….. not to mention the beaches on either side of the lighthouse that punctuate the tip of the cape, you’ll get it. And then when night falls and the sky sparkles down at you and the wind tickles your face to say hello, oh, you’ll really get it. I said it before but I’ll say it again: Cabo Polonio is pure magic.
While there are a couple of hostels and fancier accommodations, the best thing to do in Cabo Polonio is rent a house. Some houses have electricity and running water, but many don’t. And there’s definitely no cell phone reception, so let your mom know you won’t be checking in for a few days. Some houses are not much more than 4 walls and a roof, while others are much more chic. I stayed in an eccentric and totally wonky house without running water or electricity, and let me tell you: this bougie New Yorker has never been happier fetching water from the well and cooking dinner by candlelight. It is so rare these days to find a place where you can actually disconnect, and let’s be honest, we could all use that sometimes.
So what’s there to do in Cabo Polonio? Absolutely nothing. And that’s the beauty of it. You simply have to relax and hang on the beach, or maybe check out the sand dunes at sunset. If you’re into sea lions, walk over and peep one of the biggest colonies in South America - they hang out by the lighthouse all day long. But don’t worry, if this all sounds too quiet for you, do not worry- there’s nightlife too! In typical Uruguayan style, the bars open late and the vibe is super friendly. You could be dancing under the stars until the sun comes up at every morning if you want to! Not too shabby for a small Uruguayan village, right?
For such a small country, Colombia has a surprisingly diverse geography. While most people associate Colombia with Cartagena’s Caribbean beaches or with Bogota’s cosmopolitan bustle, my favorite part of Colombia is Salento, a small town hidden in the lush mountains of Colombia’s Coffee Region.
The town itself is enchanting, with its colorful colonial architecture and small-town-feel. But the real beauty of Salento isn’t in town – it’s in the rolling green mountains and valley that surround it. The Valle de Cocora is a breathtaking valley filled with Cocora wax palm trees, which for those of you who don’t know, are palms that are insanely tall and absurdly skinny. I absolutely hate to hike, but I made the 4-hour journey into the valley and I tell you – it was worth every second I spent complaining on the way in. If sitting amongst the clouds (literally) and feeling overwhelmingly peaceful is your kind of thing, you’ll love Salento.
If you make it through the 4 hours, or heck, even if you don’t, you should treat yourself to some trucha, or trout. The trucha in Salento is mind-blowing. Whatever they put in that delicious sauce used to cook it, the trucha in Salento is some of the best fish I’ve ever had in my life!
And if you’re a coffee fanatic, consider taking a coffee tour on one of the many coffee fincas, or farms, in the area. It’s a surprisingly intricate process, and people are really passionate about their coffee beans. And hey, free coffee is always a welcome thing in my world.
Be kind to yourself and spend an afternoon swimming in the many hot springs in the area. But even though there is a good amount of things to do and see in Salento, don’t stress yourself trying to do too much. Salento is also a great place to just breathe, relax, and thank the universe for creating those gorgeous mountains that surround you on all sides.
The northeast of Brazil is full of beautiful beaches and charming little towns, but Caraíva is definitely one of my favorite. Maybe I’ve got a thing for hard-to-get-to places that have little-to-no internet connection, but hey, those kinds of places are good for the soul!
Just getting to Caraíva is a journey – it’s located in the south of the state of Bahia, and it’s several hours away from any major airport or city. You’ve got to fly in to Porto Seguro, then hop on a bus, to a ferry, to another bus, and then climb into a little paddleboat where a fisherman will ferry you across a small river. And then finally, there you are. Welcome to Caraíva: a little beach paradise where the river meets the ocean and the biggest decision you’ll make each day is: should I hang by the river-beach or the ocean-beach. There are no cars in Caraíva, and there aren’t even really any roads. Concrete is replaced by sand, and the only taxis you’ll find are donkey-pulled carriages. And wifi? Cell phones? Who cares? You’re in Caraíva!
If you’re into seafood, Caraíva’s got all kinds of goodies for you. Definitely eat some empanadas de arraia (manta ray!) and do order some moqueca de peixe (a delicious fish stew characteristic of Bahia). Your stomach will thank you.
If you’re like me and like a place with nightlife, don’t worry, there is no shortage of live music to dance to here. Brazilians are good at many things, but chilling on the beach during the day and partying till the sun comes up are some of their specialties, so don’t worry, you’ll be in good hands.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, I’m sure Cuba has been on your radar, and with good reason: Cuba is just about the best place ever. Well, ok, at least it’s my favorite place at the moment, and it’s without doubt the most unique. But I won’t lie, Cuba is not an easy place to travel in. Very few people speak English, difficult access to internet makes good tourist information hard to come by, and generally speaking: nothing makes any sense.
But that’s also what makes it so great. Cuba can sometimes feel like another planet: a loudly colorful, friendly and sexy planet that won’t stop dancing and having fun. The old cars from the 1950s are no joke, most of the buildings are indeed dilapidated and crumbling, and yet Cuba is absolutely beautiful. And it’s safe! Cubans are flamboyant, they're loud, and they're some of the friendliest people you’ll ever met. They know how to make any situation fun, even their sometimes harsh reality.
Airbnb just started in Cuba, which opens up a whole new way to travel on the island. Still I recommend staying in a casa particular, which is essentially a bed and breakfast, except it’s in the home of a Cuban family. This is the best way to get to know the island – through its people!
The color, chaos and smog of Havana can be overwhelming, but part of the fun is trying to survive it all. If you’re planning to come in the summer, be warned: it is hot. I mean, a level of heat and humidity that I didn’t even know existed before coming to Havana in July. But don’t let that deter you. Just compensate for the heat by packing your teeniest-tiniest outfits and you’ll fit right in. Nightlife is almost non-stop in Havana, and even if you don’t know how to dance salsa, don’t worry, you’ll still have a great time. Chances are you’ll end up trying to change your ticket to stay longer. At least that’s what I did…. Three times and counting!
Valparaíso is good for the soul. It’s a place to think, to breathe, to be. It’s a place that exudes mystical and artistic energy and inspires you to create. Also, it’s absolutely gorgeous.
It’s not hard to imagine that Valpo was conceived and designed by someone on a psychedelic acid trip because the layout of this city is completely bananas. It boasts the largest quantity of absurdly colorful houses I’ve ever seen, all smushed on top of one another and clinging on to the side of a mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The buildings are almost entirely covered in colorful graffiti and murals, and the entire city is carved into insanely steep hills. And by insanely steep, I really mean insanely steep. So steep that they need to rely on ascensores, or elevators, to take you up the steepest sections of hill. They’re incredibly simple and incredibly cool.
Oh, and like most of my favorite cities, this one’s got a beach. And even in the winter when the temperatures are legitimately cold, the beach is still a beautiful place to hang. Chile is known for it’s wine, so take advantage and drink as much of it as possible. Otherwise, just enjoy getting lost and wandering through all the winding streets and steep hills. Most of all, grab your camera and enjoy the journey. Travel is not so much about your destination, but finding a new way of seeing things!
Written By & Photos By: Laura CatanaTweet