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David and I were fairly well traveled before we met, and it’s one of the things we bonded over on our first date. David did a study abroad in Vienna, I’d traveled around Europe and the Caribbean and had taken trips to Asia and Australia.
Now, we’ve been traveling full time since October 2014, sailing around the world on our boat, Starry Horizons. In that time, we’ve visited six continents, 40 countries or territories, and have been to some extremely exotic or isolated places.
It’s also important to note that we spent a lot of time in each country, much more than the typical tourist that’s flying in. Seven months in Australia, two months in the Maldives, four months in Fiji….when we visit a country, we get to really explore it!
My personal list is up to 58. Even as well-traveled as I am, that’s not even 25% of the 233 countries.
Here’s our favorites.
For the sake of this post, I’ve separated territories from their sovereign states. It doesn’t make sense to consider a territory the same as its sovereign nation for travel purposes when they are so completely different and far apart.
What’s Important to Us
As we’ve traveled, we have definitely found a trend in things that we like to do while we travel. For me, the top three is hiking, wildlife, and snorkeling/diving.
Everyone has different things they like to do when traveling. Laying on a beach or staying at an all-inclusive resort isn’t super high on our list of things to do, though we certainly have done it. Please consider that when reading our recommendations.
I love spending several hours exercising to get to a fabulous viewpoint. There is definitely a sense of accomplishment and a defined reward for your hard work. I didn’t look for hiking opportunities while traveling when I was younger, but as I’ve become more active in my 30s, I appreciate it more.
There are ten Great Walks in New Zealand, organized by the Department of Conservation. These full tracks are all multi-day hikes with huts or campsites for overnight stays.
While we did camp a lot in New Zealand on our five-week road trip, we only hiked a portion of the most popular track: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Yes, it was crowded, but it also had spectacular views such as the emerald pools and Mount Ngauruhoe, aka Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings universe. The hike took us eight hours.
Nosy Komba is a small island near Nosy Be. These two islands are off the coast of northwestern Madagascar, and while they both have great hikes, our favorite was hiking up Nosy Komba. The hike was about three hours long and we got to see tons of wildlife along the way.
We often joke about having an ice cream at the pinnacle of a hike. Well, in Nosy Komba we couldn’t get an ice cream, but there was a sweet little bar up at the top that served lemon juice, tea, and rum.
The view from the top: amazing!
The islands of Seychelles are rugged with extreme elevation changes. We hiked the Copolia Trail twice. It’s only about an hour up to the top (you drive most of the way from sea level) but the view over the beautiful waters of Seychelles is stunning. From the top, you can see most of the eastern coast: the capital of Victoria, Eden Island Marina where we stayed, and the airport. On a clear day, you could see all the way out to Praslin.
One our second hike we spotted a Seychelles chameleon – an extremely rare spotting!
Another hike we did twice, Pic N’ga, on the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia. The hike is tough: mostly exposed and hot, but the view is spectacular. On one side, you can see the cruise ship port, and on the other, Upi Bay. No motorized vessels are allowed in Upi Bay. Instead, you can ride a traditional pirogue.
Best Countries for Wildlife
Safaris are some of the most memorable moments we’ve had out traveling. I love looking for wildlife, either with a guide (they always have great eyes!) or the satisfaction of spotting things myself.
The king of safaris, South Africa is home to such a variety of animals, including the Big Five Game: lions, leopards, elephants, water buffalo, and rhinoceroses.
On the fourth-largest island in the world, 90% of the life found is endemic to Madagascar, meaning it’s not found anywhere else. We saw lemurs, chameleons, boa constrictors, various birds, and insects. In some places, lemurs are cared for by park rangers, who introduce the lemurs to you. We also swam with whale sharks in Nosy Be (our second-best whale shark swim behind Saint Helena) and visited baobab trees.
We also did a safari in Sri Lanka. We were super excited about this opportunity to see leopards – the only one of the big five we hadn’t seen in South Africa. Well, we saw plenty during our safari in Wilpattu National Park. Our guide was excellent, and we saw tons of interesting animals in the wild, including Sri Lanka’s big three: sloth bears, leopards, and elephants. Peacocks danced for their mates, another spectacular display.
We also saw one of the largest migrations of Asian elephants in the world at Minneriya National Park.
Also full of thousands of endemic species, Australia was a great place to see a wide variety of life. Since we were in Australia for so long, we had a lot of cool sightings. Kangaroos are everywhere (best sightings: Coffs Harbor and Lake Macquarie), we spotted a wild echidna on Great Keppel Island, koalas on our 7-day Great Ocean Road trip, and dingos on Fraser Island.
We had two great experiences in Indonesia with unique wildlife: we spent two nights on a klotok in Borneo looking for orangutans, and we spent a week around the Komodo National Park area, spotting komodo dragons and swimming with manta rays.
Not only did we see orangutans in the wild at Camp Leakey, but we also saw proboscis monkeys, gibbons, and an extremely rare wild cat. Our guide took us on night treks and we planted a tree.
We saw komodo dragons on Rinca Island, but also the deer and water buffalo that are native to these areas. The underwater life was also a highlight (more about that next!).
Best Countries for Underwater Life
We spend a lot of time snorkeling, and though we do dive, we haven’t dove as much as I would have liked to. When evaluating underwater life, I look for water clarity, coral reef life, and the presence of megafauna.
This territory of France is an extremely diverse collection of islands. There’s something for everyone here.
In the Marquesas Islands, we encountered tons of manta rays – one of my favorite things to spot while in the water.
Fakarava has some of the most spectacular coral life we’ve ever seen, plus a resident population of reef sharks that swim the southern pass.
Bora Bora has crystal-clear water, vibrant fish life, and lots of rays and sharks. We dove with manta rays and lemon sharks, while also visiting stingray and reef shark feeding spots.
Most of Indonesia had poor visibility and fish life, though we did quite a bit of diving (Banda, Wakatobi, Amed in Bali, and Komodo). The protected waters near Komodo National Park were some of the best we had ever seen.
I went on three dives at Gili Banta with cruising friends. We saw manta rays, mantis shrimp, and tons of nudibranchs.
My BFF Sara was visiting, and we snorkeled A LOT in the clearest water we’ve ever seen. For sure the highlight was swimming with big manta rays, who played with us for over half an hour.
We were surprised by how much we enjoyed New Caledonia. We didn’t know much about it going in, but one of the best things is that much of it is protected marine parks. We saw SO many turtles and octopuses. The water was super clear, and we swam as often as we could.
Best Countries for Food
Great food is often just a side benefit to the places we’ve traveled. I love great food and it is an amazing way to get insight into a country or region, but I also love to cook at home, so we don’t eat out nearly as often as we could.
I wanted to go to Thailand so much because I love Thai food, and on that front, Thailand did not disappoint. We enjoyed staples such as Pad Thai (David’s favorite) and Pad See Ewe (my favorite) which were very similar to dishes at Thai restaurants back home. However, we also got to try some really amazing new dishes, such as Lemongrass Salad (I’m still looking for a recipe) and Thai street food. Best of all, food is incredibly cheap in Southeast Asia.
Read where to eat in Phuket.
Read a foodie tour of Sri Lanka.
Blessed with an ideal Mediterranean climate, South Africa, especially around Cape Town, grows a lot of produce. We were always able to buy a wide variety of fruit and vegetables that were grown in South Africa, things like raspberries, blueberries, and peaches, which aren’t found elsewhere in Africa, and certainly not on tropical islands.
South Africa also has the oldest wine industry outside of Europe, and both times we visited South Africa we went to Stellenbosch to explore the local varieties.
As far as cuisine, South African cuisine is heavily influenced by its history of Malay slaves and spice route trade. South Africans eat a lot of meat, like braais (bbq), bobotie (a casserole dish like shepherd’s pie), biltong (fatty dried meats) and boerewors (sausage).
Cape Town is extremely international, with tons of cheap food choices and vegan menus (I sometimes eat vegan and always avoid dairy).
Another country I had no idea about the food other than churrasco, Brazil has tons of interesting and unique dishes that blew us away. It helped that we had our friends Hans and Karina to guide us to all things delicious in Recife.
Best Countries for Culture
We’re not major history buffs, but we do try to visit culturally and historically important sites when we travel.
All over Sri Lanka are ancient cultural sites giving a glimpse into extremely old civilizations. The first Sinhala Kingdom dates back to 543 BC and during our 12-day trip in Sri Lanka, we hiked the stunning rock fortress of Sigiriya and toured ancient cultural sites in the Cultural Triangle.
Throughout our travels, we’ve seen and learned about a lot of colonial suppression of native peoples. While there have been problems in New Zealand, the Māori culture is still honored and prevalent in today’s modern New Zealand.
We visited Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the Māori signed an agreement with the British. Spread throughout New Zealand are amazing museums like Te Papa in Wellington that have futuristic exhibits educating visitors on the Māori culture.
Part of what put Indonesia on this list was that we toured with the Sail 2 Indonesia Rally. As part of that, we attended the Festival Pesona Indonesia in Pasarwajo and experienced the dance, costumes, and food.
We also explored Bali on our own in a one-day trip from Lovina, visiting Balinese and Buddhist Temples, rice fields, and waterfalls.
I’ve been to Japan three times – once when I was a teen, and twice on long layovers in Tokyo. For our first layover, we went to visit Narita. The architecture is Japan’s Edo period and the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, which was founded in 940, is a major attraction.
Since most of our travels have been by boat the past few years, we’re been to a lot of port cities.
I love Paris – I’ve been on five trips to Paris and the city has so much going for it. Nutella crepes from street vendors, excellent museums, and beautiful public spaces.
We spent nearly six weeks in Cape Town and loved every minute of it. There’s great hiking, stunning views of the Table Mountain, international cuisine, and a lot of history.
A combination of the new Panama City and the old Panama City – Casco Viejo – puts the Panamanian capitol near the top of my list. Casco Viejo has rooftop bars, Spanish Colonial architecture, and stunning views out over the ocean and across the bay to new Panama City. The Cinta Costera, a park and path that runs along the waterfront, is bustling no matter the time of day. Public transit is extremely cheap and easy to use.
A maritime city in Nova Scotia, Halifax is adorable. The Halifax waterfront is a beautiful mixed-use development with restaurants and food shacks all over. The Halifax Citadel is within walking distance from the waterfront, and there are heaps of museums to visit. The city was clean, and just like the stereotype, Canadians are super friendly.
We love Cuban food, and Miami is the best place outside of Cuba to eat it. I love the coastal cottage and beach house architecture, and Miami has it in spades. We biked Miami Beach, visited Key Biscayne, and fell in love with manatees.
New Zealand’s biggest city is very international. The history museums were excellent, the waterfront beautiful, and we enjoyed hiking and eating our way through Auckland in five days.
Best Countries for Beaches
We aren’t huge beach-goers, but I can understand why some people love it. And being sailors, we went to A LOT of beaches.
Two beaches really stand out in my mind for Australia.
Fraser Island was the finest sand we’d ever seen, almost like powder as we walked. We also saw starfish and dingoes on the walk, and the beach stretches for miles.
Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island was also incredibly beautiful soft white sand with blue, clear water.
According to NatGeo, Seychelles has one of the most beautiful beaches in the world: Anse Source d’Argent on La Digue Island. It is really beautiful, with huge granite boulders, a barrier reef, and juice bars on the beach. We went twice, and when you have the whole place almost to yourself,its really special.
Anse Lazio on Praslin was also very special; more swell but a wider beach with finer sand. Beau Vallon on Mahe was the same.
In Hawaii, we spent four days on a road trip around the Big Island. We visited some beautiful beaches with unique sand: black sand and green sand.
Top Countries We Want to Revisit
While we’ve often spent long amounts of time in places, there are very few cases of us leaving a country thinking we’ve seen everything we want to see.
I would love to explore more of Japan – more Japanese food, cherry blossoms, and Buddhist Temples. I would love to get a Japan Rail Pass for 21 days and tour the rest of the country outside of Tokyo.
Even after nearly four months in New Zealand, I would gladly go back. There are so many things we still would love to do in New Zealand. We didn’t get down to the very south of the South Island so see Milford Sound or Queenstown. We barely spent any time in the water, but I would have loved to dive Poor Knights and swim with seals in Kaikoura.
Canada (Nova Scotia)
We spent six weeks in Nova Scotia, but I would gladly go back. We didn’t explore much inland, like the vineyards of Annapolis Valley, or get out to Sable Island. I wouldn’t hesitate to go for another round on the Cabot Trail and sit in an Adirondack chair and watch seals bob in the ocean. Plus, we didn’t see any puffins!
Our Travel Wishlist Top Three
Now that we’ve been around the world, where would we like to go?
Ever since I started astrophotography, seeing the Northern Lights has been a huge bucket-list item for me. Lapland – the hunk of land divided into Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia – looks like the best place to do it.
As kids in Texas, David and I have both been across the border a few times. I would love to go as an adult to Mexico City or Oaxaca and really get my fill of proper Mexican food. Plus, Mexico City has more museums than anywhere else in the world.
It seems that everyone who’s been to Croatia has fallen in love with it. We haven’t done much travel in Europe lately, and neither David or I have been to the Balkans. It’s reputed to be great for food, history, and sailing.