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2011 Best Travel Moments

It’s not yet the end of the year, but I’m not going anywhere until early in 2012 and there’s a rare speck of dust on my suitcase. I may as well summarize my travel year now. While there were definitely some strange aspects to my 2011, I made new friends (some of whom are the friends-for-life variety), visited new destinations and had new experiences. Overall, the year was not too shabby.

Here are some highlights from destinations I visited in 2011:

Colombia: If there’s one destination that turned my life around this year, it’s Colombia. I went twice, and my second trip there conflicted with an opportunity for me to go to Honduras, so that choice will tell you it was a big deal for me. I admit, I chuckled when I first heard the country’s current travel slogan: “The only risk is wanting to stay.” But now, I’m not laughing, because the place immediately got under my skin in a pretty serious way. I’m already planning to go back early in 2012.

Grand Canyon National Park: Considering how much of an outdoorsy girl I am, it’s surprising that this was my first trip to the Grand Canyon. But I did it in style, hiking down into the canyon to stay at Phantom Ranch, and then hiking back out again. A slight setback was that I sprained my ankle on the way down, so had to hike on it nearly the entire time.

Maui: I was 20 the last time I visited Maui, so it’s been a little more than a couple of years. Last time, I didn’t go to Hana, so chilling out in the remote town with little to do but enjoy the natural beauty was enough for me after a busy summer travel schedule. I may not have surfed, but I did hike in the O’heo Gulch and learned how to fish with a throw net and also play the ukulele. I believe I got a few massages as well and had some mai tais.

Mexico: I visited La Paz, Todos Santos and Loreto in February—and got close to the California gray whales in Magdalena Bay. I returned to Mexico in May, for the Cinco de Mayo festivities in Puebla. While in Puebla, I also took a cooking class and learned to make mole Poblano, among a few other local dishes.

New Orleans: Mardi Gras, every year, with great friends. If you’ve never been, you should go, because real Mardi Gras is nothing like that Bourbon Street nightmare.

New Zealand: I spent my entire New Zealand trip on the North Island: first in Auckland, then in and around Rotorua (focusing on geothermal sites, like White Island), and finally in and around Wellington. The best memory was spending the night on the floor of a Maori marae, and hearing stories about the carvings of various ancestors on the walls of the building. The next morning, one of the men whose stories I’d listened to blessed my greenstone necklace. The focused time spent there allowed me to get a deeper experience with the culture in a way I wouldn’t have if I were just passing through.

Nicaragua: From Managua to Lake Nicaragua to San Juan del Sur, my time in Nicaragua was far too short. I slept on an island in Lake Nicaragua, woke up early, and watched flocks of parrots fly over the lake while the sun rose. I also had a memorable ride on a speedy horse that transported me back to my horse-crazy childhood. On the next trip to Nicaragua, I’m going surfing.

Rocky Mountain National Park: This was my second of two inn-to-inn hiking adventures in 2011, and my first time in this gorgeous national park. There was still snow at some of the higher elevations (in June), and bright wildflowers were scattered along some of the trails I walked on.

What’s in store for 2012? At the moment, I have plans for Yosemite, Los Angeles, Israel and New Orleans. Colombia and some Caribbean destinations are all in beginning planning stages. But that list will grow, and not yet knowing how it will is part of the excitement for the new year.

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