10 Waterfalls to See Before You Die

Thundering water, “smoking” water—these are just a couple of the ways people around the world have conceptualized waterfalls. No matter where in the world you live, you have a good idea of what a waterfall is. In all shapes and sizes, these landmarks and their majesty have captured the imagination of generations. The world is filled with amazing waterfalls and while picking a waterfall destination is never the wrong choice, there are some that are must-see locations—like the ones on this list. From highest to largest to widest, you should put the waterfalls down on your bucket list.

10. Ebor Falls, Australia

Named for a nearby town, Ebor Falls are a cascade-type waterfall formation on the Guy Fawkes River in the New England area of New South Wales, Australia. They are situated about 23 miles northeast of Wollomombi on the Waterfall Way, one of Australia’s most scenic drives. The upper falls plummet 115 meters in 2 cascades, while the lower falls, about 600 meters downstream, plunge into a steep, forested gorge. The falls are located in Guy Fawkes River National Park, and are popular with tourists, with nearly 80,000 people visiting in 2008. Viewing platforms, as well as rest areas and walking trails, are available. Camping is available at the nearby Cathedral Rock National Park, home of Round Mountain, about 6 kilometers west of Ebor. Ebor Falls have longer been recognized as a site for recreation and preservation; they were first protected in 1895.

Ebor Falls, Australia

9. Gocta Cataracts, Peru

We like to think that there’s nothing left to discover on this planet of ours, but as the case of the Gocta Cataracts proves, nothing could be further from the truth. The Gocta Cataracts, about 430 miles northwest of Lima, the Peruvian capital, were a well-kept secret until 2005 when an expedition by Stefan Ziemendorff brought the falls onto the world stage. Ziemendorff convinced the Peruvian government to measure the falls’ height—a staggering 2,530 feet, making it one of the tallest in the world (although its exact ranking is disputed). Since discovery, the Peruvian government has developed the waterfall as a tourist attraction, building a hotel 6 miles from the base of the falls. Hiking trails and horse paths allow tourists to access the falls—which are said to be haunted by a beautiful mermaid. Given the falls’ altitude, at over 7,000 feet, clouds sometimes obscure the view.

Catarata de Gocta

8. Humboldt Falls, New Zealand

New Zealand’s mountains are now famous, and where there are mountains, there’s a good chance you’ll find waterfalls. That holds true in the island-nation: in Hollyford Valley, in Fiordland, you’ll find the spectacular Humboldt Falls. The falls are nearly 1,000 feet high, with the water cascading down the rock face in 3 distinct steps. The largest of the 3 drops is 440 feet, almost 50% of the falls’ total height. The falls are a horsetail-type waterfall, and, despite their height, are relatively easy to reach. The trail from the falls, along Hollyford Road, is about 600 meters long and will take you about half-an-hour to navigate. The grade is relatively easy, allowing visitors to get close enough to glimpse some spectacular views of the waters of the Hollyford River rushing into the gorge below.

"Humboldt Falls" by Karora - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
Humboldt Falls” by KaroraOwn work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

7. Trümmelbach Falls, Switzerland

Where there are mountains, there are waterfalls. Nowhere is that more true than in the soaring heights of the Alps. As snow and glaciers melt, the resulting water flows down the steep inclines, resulting in some spectacular feats of nature. The Trümmelbach is one of those feats: it drains the glacier defiles of Switzerland’s 3 most famous mountains, Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. Up to 20,000 liters of water pass through the falls per second. The Trümmelbach is a series of 10 falls and they are actually located within the mountain, twisting and turning through the rockface as they rush to lower ground. The falls have been made accessible to tourists by tunnel-lift and they are illuminated for viewing. Viewing the glacial water plunging through the “Corkscrew Chute” is a glimpse into some of nature’s most secretive workings.

Trümmelbach Falls, Switzerland

6. Huangguoshu Waterfall, China

The name of this stunning Chinese waterfall means “Yellow-fruit Tree Waterfalls.” Located on the Baishui River, it is one of the largest waterfalls in the whole country and in East Asia. It stands 255 feet high, with the main fall boasting a 220-foot drop. The falls span a width of approximately 330 feet. They are an example of a segmented block waterfall formation. The falls are considered a natural tourist draw and have been rated as an AAAAA scenic area by the China National Tourism Administration. Tourism is served by a special line of buses and 3 viewing platforms offering different views of the falls. Another attraction is Shuliandong, the Water-Curtain cave, a 440-foot cave that formed naturally at the back of the falls. There are several other waterfalls in the area, about 28 miles southwest of Anshun city.

Huangguoshu Waterfall, China

5. Dettifoss, Iceland

Dettifoss is the largest waterfall in Iceland, which says something as this island-nation is a place of many waterfalls. It’s also reputed to be one of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe, with an average flow of 193 cubic meters per second. The falls are 330 feet wide and plunge 150 feet into the Jökulsárglijúfur canyon. Located in Vatnajökull National Park in the northeast of the island, Dettifoss is situated on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River, whose waters originate at the Vatnajökull glacier. A new road, finished in 2011, allows better visitor access. The waterfall is located on Iceland’s popular Diamond Circle tourist route, which also includes Húsavík and Lake Myvatn. The falls are a multi-step formation, which is a series of waterfalls of roughly the same size, each with its own sunken plunge pool.

Dettifoss, Iceland

4. Iguazu Falls, Brazil/Argentina

Located along the border between Brazil and Argentina, Iguazu Falls are a sight to behold as they stretch along for more than 1.5 miles. Depending on the water level, there may be between 150 and 300 smaller waterfalls, most of them on the Argentine side of the border, with plunges between 197 and 269 feet. The main attraction is the Devil’s Throat, a U-shaped waterfall that spans nearly 3,000 feet. Perhaps the best feature of Iguzau’s structure is that it allows visitors to be surrounded by waterfalls up to 260 degrees at a time—not quite encircled, but close. Iguazu is wider and discharges more water than the equally impressive Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Tourism in the area is well developed, and the falls can be reached from either the Brazilian or Argentine side, as well as from Ciudad del Este in Paraguay.

Iguazu Falls - Iguazu National Park

3. Angel Falls, Venezuela

If you’ve seen Pixar’s Up, you’ve seen Angel Falls. The Venezuelan waterfall is well known to people around the world. Part of its fame comes from the fact that it is indeed the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall—the plunge is an astounding 2,648 feet. The official height given by the Venezuelan state and UNESCO is 3,212 feet, which includes sloped cascades, rapids below the drop and another plunge downstream. The falls were given their current name in honor of Jimmie Angel, an American aviator. In 2009, the Venezuelan president indicated his intention to give the indigenous name to official status. Although the indigenous people were aware of the falls before Angel’s 1933 flight, they did not visit the area and it was not known to the outside world. Today, the falls are a popular tourist attraction, despite the difficulty in reaching them through isolated stretches of jungle.

Angel Falls, Venezuela

2. Niagara Falls, Canada/USA

Along the Canadian-American border lies Niagara Falls, which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. The Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, named for their shape, are larger and more renowned than the (still impressive) American falls. The distinctive color of the water flowing over the drop is a by-product of finely ground rock dust and dissolved salts, which occur in the water because of the erosive power of the Niagara River and the falls. Currently, erosion moves the falls back about 1 foot per year. The falls were already a huge tourist attraction in the late 19th century, and they continue to be a popular attraction today, with many hotels, casinos and excursions available to visitors. It is also a popular location for honeymooners and for film and television.

Niagara Falls

1. Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe

Located near the Zambia-Zimbabwe border, Victoria Falls is the widest waterfall in the world, which results in the largest sheet of falling water. While other falls may be wider, many of these actually contain several distinct falls; Victoria Falls is a single flow. The falls are viewable from both the Zambian side and the Zimbabwean side; traditionally, the Zimbabwean side was more popular with tourists, but recently the number of visitors to the Zambian side has been increasing. The Zimbabwean government has considered renaming the falls to Mosi-oa-Tonya, the indigenous name for the formation. The name means “the smoke that thunders.” The falls are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, although extensive tourist development in the area has led the UN to reconsider this designation. Nonetheless, the falls remain majestic to see at peak flow in April. In the dry season, it is possible to walk through the First Gorge.

Victoria Falls, Zambia Zimbabwe

 

7 Scenic Spots for an Epic Picnic

There are few more idyllic, memorable, budget-friendly activities than enjoying an outdoor picnic. Whether you’re a couple looking for a romantic spot to nosh wine and cheese, a family looking for a day outing, or a big group planning an event or reunion, there are loads of spots that will enhance the overall experience with scenery, amenities and unique features built right into the setting. And there are many who agree that food just tastes better outside.

7. Irvine Regional Park, CA

Located in Orange, CA, Irvine Regional Park is a mecca for family fun, and that includes a picnic. In addition to numerous picnic tables and outdoor grills, there is a host of activities to partake in after you’ve finished your potato salad. There are bike trails (bike rentals available), equestrian trails, pony rides, paddleboats and fishing. There is even a train that the family can hop on for a ride across the park, as well as a zoo.

Photo by: Gavin Farrington
Photo by: Gavin Farrington

6. Huayna Picchu, Peru

Looking for a picnic perch with a view? You can’t get much better than spreading your blanket out atop Huayna Picchu in Peru, breaking your bread and taking in the vistas all around you. At an elevation of 9,000 ft., stopping atop this mountain after a reportedly grueling hike not only gives you a chance to rest and refuel your body after the hike, but a chance to refresh your soul as well, with a stunning panorama of the 15th century ruins of Machu Piccu, including the Urubamba River Valley and the iconic city of Inca.

Huayna Picchu, Peru

5. Gatineau Park, QC

Gatineau Park, located just across the Ottawa River, has 5 different picnic areas within their network of parks. The park is very popular with mountain bikers, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Charcoal BBQs are available at various locations throughout the parks, as well as lots of picnic tables.  The Etienne Brule Lookout is a popular picnic spot and offers fantastic views of the Ottawa River and connects to hiking and biking trails.

Gatineau Park, QC

4. Grand Canyon South Rim, AZ

You’ve heard of dinner and a show? How about lunch and a view? And as far as views go, you can’t replicate the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon National Park at the South Rim has over 300 miles of trails to wander and take in this wonder of the world. Desert View Drive, which winds along the south rim of the Canyon leads to the Desert View Watchtower. Along this road are several lookout points and picnic areas. If you’re looking to extend your stay and camp, reservations are highly recommended. There are three campgrounds at the South Rim, including tent sites that can accommodate up to 50 people and three vehicles- so if your picnic plans are for a large group or reunion- this is a good spot for you.

Grand Canyon South Rim, AZ

3. Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park, Bristol UK

This fun park expands over 50 acres along the River Avon and has loads of family activities, including a petting zoo, mazes, a toddler village, and indoor and outdoor play areas. The park offers a “Riverside Experience” with miles of trails to follow along the river, providing idyllic picnic spots along the way.

Avon Valley
Photo by: Avon Valley Adventure and wildlife park

2. Shannon Falls Provincial Park, BC

In Squamish B.C., Shannon Falls cascades down over Howe Sound, and are the third tallest falls in British Columbia. A meandering trail through the forest will get you down to the base of the falls- which is where you’ll want to head for photo ops and great views. If you feel like a longer hike, this trail hooks into the Stawamus Trail, which spreads its way out to three different summits. Shannon Falls Provincial Park is well-equipped for picnickers with a concession stand and picnic area located next to the parking lot. This area is for day-use only, making it ideal for a daytime hike and picnic to take in the views.

Photo by: Panoramio/Schalk Mouton
Photo by: Panoramio/Schalk Mouton

1. Villa Borghese Park, Rome

Villa Borghese is Rome’s answer to New York’s Central Park with vast amounts of green space, walking trails and ponds. This park spreads out over 226 acres, and is populated with statues, museums, fountains, theaters and a zoo. There is a wide patchwork of lush, idyllic gardens in which to stop and smell the roses- literally. There are lots of grassy patches under trees to spread out your blanket and feast on your Italian picnic basket. Afterwards you can wander to one of the many man-made lakes and feed the ducks.

Villa Borghese Park, Rome

10 Best Places to Learn to Dive the PADI Way

If you want to learn to dive the first thing you need to do is locate a reputable dive instructor. The gold standard in dive education is PADI which stands for: The Professional Association of Diving Instructors. PADI is the world’s leading scuba diving training organization and has courses for ages eight and up with certification courses for those age 10 and up. You can locate PADI certified instructors and facilities in landlocked cities, YMCA’s and dive shops all over the world. If you are going to learn to dive why not do it in place that you will always remember and take some time to also enjoy the surroundings. When planning your next vacation, why not also learn to scuba dive and give yourself another reason to look forward to that next adventure. We have compiled a list of some of the best places on earth to learn to scuba dive the PADI way while also experiencing a great vacation.

10. Bahamas

Bahamas is a popular destination and easily accessible for most Americans. There are several dive centers on the island including Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas. Stuart was a stunt diver in the James Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only”. After earning a reputation as a top notch underwater stunt coordinator, he saved his money and in 1987 bought a dive boat. Subsequent stints in various resorts and his role as the go-to film underwater coordinator, led Stuart to open a dive center. Offering various PADI certification classes and divemaster courses Stuart also takes certified divers on shark dives, has a kid’s certification course and even has an underwater wedding venue if you want to have the wedding experience of a lifetime. When not diving, the Bahamas offers great beaches, nightlife, boating, fishing, the world’s deepest blue hole and the third largest reef in the world. A wild horse preserve, various nature preserves and great weather. What more could you ask for?

Dean's Blue Hole, Bahamas

9. Scotland

Scotland you say? Scotland doesn’t necessarily come to mind when you think of scuba diving. For wreck divers, those that enjoy exploring sunken vessels and such, then Scotland is the perfect choice to learn to dive. Scapa Scuba is located in Orkney and the only dive shop in the area. Courses in open water diving, rescue diving and more are offered. One reason Scotland is an ideal place is that at the end of WW1, in 1919,  the German Navy scuttled 52 ships at Scapa Flow and this makes for what is today one of the world’s best wreck dives. When not diving, explore some of the Neolithic remains in the area that date back over 5,000 years, a cathedral founded by Vikings or visit some of the nearby towns.

Photo by: Scapa Scuba
Photo by: Scapa Scuba

8. Greece

Learning to dive in Greece has two advantages, the opportunity to learn to dive while enjoying the Aegean Sea and, well, the fact that you’re in Greece. One of the places you can learn to dive is the Atlantis Diving Center, located in the Halkidiki region. The Halkidiki region is in the Northern part of Greece and consists of three peninsulas jutting out into the Aegean Sea. Here the dive sites offer underwater caves, reefs and a variety of sea life. When not diving you can visit unique historical sites such as Mount Athos which holds monasteries and has been continuously inhabited for 1800 years. Visiting Mount Athos is restricted to a certain number of visitors per day, males only and special permission has to be obtained. The city of Thessaloniki is nearby and offers a mix of old world charm with modern city.

Roy Pedersen / Shutterstock.com
Roy Pedersen / Shutterstock.com

7. Spain

Costa del Sol is known for luxurious resorts and hotels, beautiful beaches, fine dining and a vibrant nightlife. Simply Diving, in Malaga Spain, has been operating in the area since 1999 and has a cadre of international instructors. The 5-star dive center has classes ranging from beginner to night diver, underwater photography, dive master and instructor training. Some of the dive sites visited are Gibraltar, the site of war vessel wreckage, and La Costa Tropical, Europe’s first ever National Marine Park. When you’re not diving you can enjoy any of the popular tourist destinations in Spain. If you want to escape the tourist areas for a few days then head inland and visit one of the many small villages and towns where you can enjoy hiking and cycling through the countryside surrounded by olive groves and fields.

Scuba Diving in Spain

6. Peru

Located in the northwestern part of Peru, the town of Mancora is a popular beach resort destination and home to the Spondylus Dive Center. Spondylus was the first PADI certified dive school in Peru and has all types of courses for children and adults. Popular dives include El Ñuro Beach where you can get up close to different marine life such as sea turtles, octopus, moray eels and different species of fish. Abandoned oil platforms have turned into artificial reefs and make for a unique experience also. For those that just want to have a fun day, a snorkeling tour can be arranged. Also, a day trip to the nearby Amotape Hills National Park provides the opportunity to do some river rafting and hiking. Mancora, known for being a popular beach and surf destination, has been likened to some of the popular Thailand beaches before they became overcrowded with tourists.

Mancora, Peru

5. Guatemala

When you sit back and hear other divers talk about where they got certified you may hear of a tropical beach paradise, but you can have a different story. Lake Atitlan in Guatemala is off the beaten path for tourists and is one of the best kept secrets among travelers. Surrounded by colorful Mayan villages the lake is located in the highlands and is the deepest lake in Central America. Formed by volcanic eruptions the region is part of the “Ring of Fire” around the Pacific Ocean. ATI Divers run courses at the lake where you can dive among volcanic formations such as cliffs and overhangs. When you’re not diving you can experience the non-commercialized area of authentic Mayan villages where the women still wear traditional dress. Take a couple of day tours while you are there and you will have a story to tell about where you got dive certified.

Lake Atitian, Guatamala

4. India

India has a coastline of over 7,000 km so the chances of finding a good dive instructor are pretty good. One of the best places to learn to dive and also have a great vacation is the Andaman Islands located in the Bay of Bengal between India and Myanmar. Dive India offer courses from open water to instructor training. Diving among pristine reefs while also offering dives to locations far off the beaten path, Dive India is a good choice to learn to scuba dive. During your down time you can learn a little about the history of the area. A popular destination is the Cellular Jail in Port Blair. The jail was built by colonial British and used to house political prisoners during the era. You can also take an island hopping tour, or just enjoy the many beaches.

scuba 1

3. Philippines

The Philippines is comprised of over 7,000 islands so you might think they have a few places to learn to dive and you would be right. With all of the places and options, the prices for learning how to dive have a wide range. One of the cheapest places is also one of the best places. Dumaguete is located in the province of Negros Oriental, the largest city in the province. Liquid Dumaguete is a 5-star PADI resort that not only offers courses, but runs a resort on location. Why Dumaguete for diving? The reason is that it’s close to APO Island which is probably the most famous and best diving sites in the region. Hard corals, schools of fish, sea turtles and an abundance of other sea life are encountered. Other popular dive site destinations are also available. The other reason Dumaguete is a great location is when you’re not diving the city awaits with all the hospitality of the Filipino people.

Learning to Dive in the Philipphines

2. Thailand

Thailand, the home of crystal clear blue water, white sand beaches and wild parties. Thailand is also the home to some of the best diving in Asia. Located on Koh Tao Island you will find the Crystal Dive Resort one of only a few 5-star PADI certified dive shops in the region. From beginner courses, refresher courses and specialized training, Crystal Dive Resort offers everything you need to get certified. With 16 dive sites around the island you can experience all types of diving. You may want to take a day dive to Shark Island where you could spot reef and leopard sharks. Don’t want to encounter a shark? You might want to try the area around the Japanese Gardens where there is little current and a fairly shallow reef populated with various tropical fish. Being an island, the majority of activities revolve around diving, hanging out on the beach or fishing, but there is always the nightlife. After spending the day diving you might want to  take a plunge into the famous Thai nightlife.

Soren Egeberg Photography / Shutterstock.com
Soren Egeberg Photography / Shutterstock.com

1. Australia

Australia is home to the Great Barrier Reef, the largest living thing on earth. Selected as a World Heritage Site and visible from outer space the Great Barrier Reef is undoubtedly the most famous dive spot in the world. Where better to earn your PADI certification and also have the chance to see and experience such a wonder? From 30 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises to the more than 1500 species of fish, this is why Australia is our number one pick.  Various sea turtles and coral species make for what has to be the most memorable dive of a lifetime. Pro Dive in Cairns is a 5-star PADI dive center and has been in operation since 1983. Pro Dive offers all the classes needed to get certified and for the more experienced, they have extended dive tours. Using their state of the art dive vessels that have Wi-Fi on board and comfortable quarters you can have an extended trip of three to seven days and hit all the great dive spots. Cairns is considered the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef but with its tropical climate and laid back atmosphere also makes for a great vacation destination.

Great Barrier Reef

Top 10 Destinations Around the World for Homestays

A homestay can be an incredibly rewarding experience both for the homeowners and visitors. Typically, students use homestays as safe, affordable accommodations when traveling on a tight budget. But it’s also a great way to practice language skills in a comfortable environment and receive insider information on the best areas to explore in their travel destination—homestays are especially suited to solo female travelers. There are homestays all around the world to suit almost any type endeavor, from remote villages to vivacious cities, the following are 10 alluring destinations ripe with homestay options ideal for enjoying a fulfilling sojourn abroad.

10. Yuvacali, Turkey

In Turkey’s southeast region, in the village of Yuvacali, visitors receive a raw experience of what daily life is like for local Kurdish families. Traditional life means hard work for families living here, most only survive off a few dollars a day. Though struggling financially, these families offer a culturally rich experience for anyone interested in a unique holiday. A handful of families in the small village offer accommodation under the starry skies of Yuvacali in a nomadic canvas tent adorned with vibrant paintings or in a traditional, mud/brick house. Guests help out on the farm, learn to cook traditional dishes on an open hearth, and enjoy swapping stories with locals. This is no five-star hotel (in fact, it’s far from it) and families here, though extremely friendly, present an opportunity to work together, not offer hotel-like services. If you’re up for the challenge of helping out, Yuvacali has plenty to offer any curious, open-minded traveler.

Village in Turkey

9. Tighza Valley, Morocco

Throughout Morocco, there an abundant number of opportunities to experience a homestay with a local family. One particularly magical place is within the breathtaking Tighza Valley where many Berber families open their homes to foreign visitors, offering simple, clean rooms within family owned homes. The arid valley, dusted with cacti and leafy green foliage, is within the high-reaching Atlas Mountains, far from the turbid, bustling cities of Fez, Marrakesh, Casablanca, and Rabat. This is rural Moroccan life at its finest: simple and scenic. Within the valley, most guests take to the alpine trails, hiking throughout the valley and enjoying mountainous routes filled with endless snap-worthy scenes: Berber women cultivating fields, shepherds watching after flocks of goats and sheep, and boisterous children playing imaginative games. Life definitely happens at a slow pace, which is not for everyone, but the Berber people are exceptionally welcoming and on point with keeping guests occupied and well-fed.

Atlas Mountains, Morocco

8. Old Havana, Cuba

Becoming familiar with the words “casa particular” or “casa particulares” is a great advantage when traveling to Cuba for an independent holiday. The term means “private house”, and upon booking, will land you either a private home or room. The Cuban government issues special permits for renting out privately owned homes, or rooms in family homes, and they are advertised through bright blue signs out front with the words “Arrendador Divisa”, it’s a rental permit showing which casas are legal. Prices vary and depend on the travel season, area of Cuba, amenities offered, square footage, and so on. One of the best places for casas is in Old Havana, where friendly owners give a healthy measure of gossip and tips on the lay of the land. You’ll get great insider information on Old Havana’s top music clubs, festivals, and bars, and most often the owner will treat you just like family.

Old Havana, Cuba

7. Lisbon, Portugal

In Portugal, “Solares de Portugal” is an interesting idea introduced to bolster tourism within houses laden with charm and unique character, calledTurismo de Habitação”. The concept is aimed at preserving rich heirlooms of the country’s cultural and architectural heritage. This type of accommodation is not a guesthouse or hotel, but a genuine homestay. Accommodation comes in various forms such as rustic farmhouses, elegant estates, and grand country homes restored to their original luster for welcoming guests from around the world. Most homestays can be found in Lisbon, but others are in Porto, Faro, the southwest islands, and other small Portuguese cities and towns. The Solares exemplify hundreds of years of Portuguese culture and history (a large part of the magnificent 17th and 18th centuries manors are owned by descendents of the original owners). Taken quite seriously as a representation of their country, the Portuguese are dedicated to providing exceptional experiences to foreign visitors.

Breakfast in Lisbon Portugal

6. Amazon Rainforest, Brazil

If you’ve ever had the desire to explore the deepest reaches of the Amazon Rainforest, a Brazilian homestay could be an idyllic experience. Easily planned in Manaus, you can book a trip and be paired up with an indigenous family. You’ll score a room in an eco-lodge or camp under the forest canopy—it’s entirely up to you. Lodges are simply constructed from locally sourced, natural building materials and designed in traditional style. Think “fancy” thatch hut with some modern conveniences and you’re not far off. Ideal for intrepid spirits, planning a trek through the lush, magical landscape is authentic, eye-opening, and lands you where wildlife is richest. Friendly indigenous guides offer a healthy dose of insight on the rain forest ecosystem and teach guests survival tips in a natural environment. You’ll also be treated to some amazing local eats and be privy to some Amazonian cooking secrets too.

Amazon Eco Lodge

5. Lake Titicaca, Peru

Peru is home to some of the greatest archaeological treasures in the world and exhibits some truly fascinating history. The entire country has something to offer: the finest specimens of Inca ruins, Pacific Coast beaches, Amazon River rafting, sand-boarding, incredible national parks, and magnificent cross-country train rides. There are a host of options for budget accommodation in Peru, but a homestay experience offers more; enjoy a vacation with a ton of insight into one of the most culturally and historically prosperous countries in the world. There are several homestays around Lake Titicaca (the highest lake in existence) providing authentic accommodations with the added value of a tour of the floating reed islands, local dining and Andean musical evenings, and a look at pre-Inca ruins and centuries-old agricultural terraces. If city living seems more interesting, there are many host families in colorful Cusco and in the capital city of Lima.

Lake Titicaca, Peru

4. Brest Oblast, Belarus

There are a large number of homestays and farmstays in the Brest region of Belarus, a cosmopolitan town situated in the southwest bordering Poland. Here you’ll find historical monuments, war memorials, charming galleries, and Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park. If you’re traveling from the capital city of Minsk, prepare to disembark into a town far more influenced by its EU neighbors than the Soviets. Cozy, comfortable Brest homestays are run by friendly families eager to show guests surrounding attractions, cook traditional meals, and facilitate independent outings including hiking and fishing trips, cycling tours, and other outdoor pursuits. Visitors will find that Belarusians have an innate love for the natural world so expect to spend quality time exploring surrounding landscapes. Most homes are two stories and have anywhere from two to six bedrooms with shared bathrooms. Some sport saunas, outdoor fireplaces, canoes, and fishing boats so check amenities thoroughly.

Brest, Belarus

3. Brisbane, Melbourne & Sydney, Australia

Australia has scores of homestay organizations typically helping students find a safe and comfortable place to live while studying abroad. Many programs are government endorsed, aimed at helping students acclimate in a healthy and safe environment while providing a reliable place to practice their studies. Though those scenarios are typical, homestays are also an option for anyone wishing to travel in Australia while staying with local hosts. There’s a dizzying array of options in Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney along the southeastern stretch and even more in the west and northern territories. Australian homestays are popular because of their relatively inexpensive rates compared to hotels while also offering an authentic local experience in the Land Down Under. If you’re using an organization to book accommodation, succinctly communicate your desired experience; some families offer more of a bed and breakfast whilst others set aside ample time to spend with guests.

Circular Quay Sydney Australia

2. Sa Pa, Vietnam

If Southeast Asian culture is appealing, there are Vietnamese families offering homestays across the country. From lively cities packed with people and an endless flurry of activity, to verdant farmlands and rice paddies where slow and steady is the pace, what’s up for grabs in Vietnam is fairly unique to many other countries. In the old town of Sa Pa in the Hoàng Liên Son Mountains there are stunning agricultural terraces that define the landscape where host families wait with open arms; Vietnamese people are extremely welcoming, hospitable, and chatty. Families embrace you, ply you with food and drink, introduce you to all the neighbors. They will even show you around the area. There’s almost no beating the incredible pride Vietnamese people feel when hosting foreigners. Enjoy Sa Pa’s beauty through climbing and hiking within the mountains, exploring hill tribe markets, volunteering at the local school—there are plenty of fulfilling activities available.

Sa Pa, Vietnam

1. Kerala, India

Tucked into the southwest tip of India is delightful Kerala, a world away from the typical, chaotic India. A lovely coastal town nestled on the shores of the Arabian Sea, Kerala is a laid back plexus of gleaming backwaters and flourishing tea and spice covered slopes. Tame your inner wild child with a hefty dose of Kerala, breathe in the salty air, gaze upon peaceful temples, and smell the endlessly spiced aromas. Festivals and celebrations, wild elephants, and exquisite boathouses will reel you in. Most accommodations are heritage homes, unique in architectural design with anywhere from one to twenty-plus rooms led by easygoing locals for nominal fees—choose a smaller abode for a more personal cultural exchange. Hosts are easygoing, offer rides to and from town and usually provide bicycles for exploring. Sanctuaries and synagogues, beaches and bayous; Kerala is an arresting blend of attractions with piles of things to do and see.

Kerala India

The 10 Fastest Growing Destination Cities of 2015

With travel for a variety of reasons—business, pleasure and everything in between—on a seemingly ever-upward trend, it’s little wonder that people (and especially experienced travelers) would begin to seek out new places to explore. While there are some places that will always top bucket lists as must-see locales, 2015 has witnessed some destination cities become increasingly popular with travelers of all stripes. Here are 10 of the fastest-growing destination cities around the globe according to a recent MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index report, each vying for the chance to be your next vacation destination.

10. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The capital of Vietnam is experiencing a resurgence in tourism. In recent years, Ho Chi Minh City has become increasingly popular, witnessing an almost 13% growth in the number of tourists since 2009 after long languishing behind other Asian destinations, in part due to the legacy of war and communist dictatorship. Formerly known as Saigon, today’s Ho Chi Minh City is a vibrant, flourishing city that serves as the cultural capital of this oft-overlooked Southeast Asian nation. Without a doubt, some of the increase has been brought about by travelers with Vietnamese roots returning to Vietnamese soil, but it seems as though other travelers are also “discovering” Vietnam’s capital as a destination of international renown. Highlights include the Reunification Palace, the Municipal Theatre and Notre-Dame Cathedral, as well as many museums, a zoo and a botanical garden.

Ho Chi Minh City

9. Lima, Peru

Although Lima is the capital—and largest—city of Peru, it has long been overshadowed by Cusco and the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. Lima, nonetheless, has a developed tourist industry, as it is a major point of entry to the country. Between 2009 and 2015, tourism grew by almost 14%—and for good reason. The city boasts well-preserved colonial buildings in a variety of styles, from Spanish Baroque to Art Nouveau, and a number of parks. The city is known for its greenspace, and is home to the largest fountain complex in the world, the Magical Circuit of Water. Lima is also home to several performing arts troupes, and hosts many festivals and concerts during the summer months. The city’s beaches are also popular attractions, as is the food—Lima has been called the “Gastronomical Capital of the Americas” for its unique blend of global cuisine.

Lima Peru

8. Tokyo, Japan

Japan’s capital city has always had some allure as a tourist destination, but tourism has recently taken off, growing slightly over 14.5% between 2009 and 2015. Tourism is likely to continue to increase over the next few years as the city ramps up for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Tokyo has many other attractions; it is famous for its electronics district, its shopping districts and its nightlife, to name but a few of the reasons people feel compelled to visit this metropolis. Tokyo is also a central place in Japanese culture and history, and features many monuments and museums. Tokyo is home to the world’s largest fish market, as well as the Japanese emperor and his family. With Mount Fuji forming a spectacular backdrop to urban sprawl, Tokyo is also renowned for its stunning cityscapes, making it one of those destinations that “has it all.”

Tokyo

7. Taipei, Tiaiwan

The capital of the nation of Taiwan has long been overlooked in favor of other tourist meccas in Southeast Asia—Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong have traditionally been destinations for those traveling for business or pleasure. Taipei has emerged from the background, however, to become the 15th most visited city in 2013, and tourism continues to grow; the industry recorded a leap of almost 15% between 2009 and 2015. As the center of Taiwan, Taipei is involved in most major high-tech industries in the country, and is an important hub of economic, political and cultural activity. Taipei boasts many architectural and cultural landmarks, including museums, temples and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Its nearby hot springs are world-renowned. Taipei also hosts many major festivals, such as the Lantern Festival during New Year’s celebrations, a Dragon Boat Festival and the Moon Festival in mid-autumn.

Taipei 101, Taiwan

6. Xi’An, China

Sometimes known as Xi’an, and formerly written as “Sian,” this city is one of China’s oldest and functions as the capital of Shaanxi province, in the northwest. In 2012, it was named as 1 of 13 emerging megapolises in China. While tourism is still dwarfed by other sectors of the city’s economy, the industry grew 16.2% over the 2009–2015 period, and that trend is likely to remain strong as the city continues to grow. While most people visit Xi’An between May and August, the autmn months are actually considered the best time of year to visit. As one of the oldest cities in China, Xi’An is home to many historical sites, including many temples and pagodas, as well as a Ming dynasty city wall. Perhaps Xi’An’s most famous attraction is the tomb of Qin Shi Huang and the world-renowned terra cotta army.

Xi'An China

5. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Riyadh has unassumingly become a top destination for travelers, with the number of annual visitors to the city jumping 18% between 2009 and 2015. Riyadh, which means “the Gardens” in Arabic, is Saudi Arabia’s capital and largest city, home to some 5.7 million people. Long an important center for the country, Riyadh and its surrounding districts contain many examples of vernacular architecture, as well as several historic village sites. The best-known monument is the Masmak Fortress, a clay-and-brick construction dating to 1865, located in the commercial center of the old city. The city is also a center of modern architecture, including the first skyscraper in Saudi Arabia, the Al Faisaliyah Center. The city also has several museums and sports venues. Soccer is the most popular sport in the city, as evidenced by the city’s 4 major clubs.

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

4. Osaka, Japan

Perhaps less well-known than Tokyo, the Japanese city of Osaka has become a popular destination for travelers. Osaka is Japan’s second-largest city, with nearly 19 million inhabitants, and, in addition to being a major economic hub, is also known as Japan’s “kitchen” owing to its role in rice growing and trade, as well as its regional cuisine. The city has long been important, even being declared the capital during the Japanese feudal period. The city underwent rapid industrialization in the 19th century. A consequence is that Osaka has many historic buildings and monuments, such as Osaka castle, with some dating back several centuries. The area also has a rich cultural history, particularly focused on performing arts; kabuki theater in particular is popular. It’s little wonder that travel to Osaka grew by nearly 20% between 2009 and 2015.

Osaka, Japan

3. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

The UAE’s capital registered 20.4% growth in the number of visitors from 2009 until the present. While business travel has undoubtedly played a part in growing numbers of travelers to the city—especially as the economy continues to diversify—tourism has also been a driving force behind this growth. The UAE has one of the highest per capita GDP’s in the world, and Abu Dhabi has earned a reputation for being something of a “rich person’s” playground. This is reflected in everything from luxury shopping centers to 5-star hotels and some of the world’s most innovative—and expensive—architecture. The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is but one example of the city’s architectural heritage. While the city has often been overshadowed by nearby Dubai, which has also emerged as a global city with economic clout, Abu Dhabi is likely to continue to attract more and more visitors.

Abu Dhabi UAE

2. Chengdu, China

Travel to Chengdu grew at more than 20.5% over the 2009–2015 period, something that’s reflected by Chengdu’s airport being 1 of the 40 most busy airports in the world and the city’s train station being 1 of the 6 largest in China. Situated on the fertile Chengdu plain, the city has long been an important one, and has many historical buildings, including shrines and temples. The city is a bastion of traditional Chinese culture, from mahjong to teahouses. Chengdu is also home to some ancient ruins and at least 3 well-preserved historic towns. Perhaps Chengdu’s biggest draw, however, is that it is home to almost 80% of the world’s remaining giant panda population. Also nearby is Mount Qingcheng, an important Taoist center. Nature, culture, history—Chengdu has it all, so it’s easy to see why more and more people are making a stop in this city.

Chengdu, China

1. Colombo, Sri Lanka

The former capital of Sri Lanka has been getting some serious attention from travelers in the last few years, with the number of visitors growing just over 21% from 2009 to 2015. Colombo is the largest city on the island nation, and has a distinctive mix of multiple ethnicities, which reflects the city’s long history and its importance. Gangaramaya Temple, one of the most important temples in the city, sums up Colombo’s multicultural feel perfectly with its mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Chinese and Indian architecture. The city also has urban parks, such as Viharamahadevi Park, and a strip of greenspace called Galle Face Green. The city has a large harbor on the Indian Ocean and the 160-acre Beira Lake is located at the heart of the city. In other parts of the city, the legacy of Dutch and British domination remains in the form of colonial-era buildings.

Colombo, Sri Lanka

THE Top 20 Places to Be in 2015

Early in 2015, the venerable New York Times published its list of ’52  Places To Go To This Year’. Its reasoning rested on the observation that “Untrammeled oases beckon, once-avoided destinations become must-sees and familiar cities offer new reasons to visit.” Its philosophy seems to be that it’s time to stop fighting our way into the overcrowded, stratospherically expensive established sites. Most of the list that follows features three qualities: great food, novelty and at least one United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) site defined as “places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity”. There are 1007 UNESCO sites in all as of this writing and the places below contain almost 200 of them. Provence and Tuscany? How about Georgia with terrific wine, breathtaking scenery and enough history for a bus full of PhDs. Tired of the prices and lineups in Greece? There’s this little fishing village on the Turkish Riviera. It’s a great idea. Let’s change it up a bit here people. Do something original.  How about a feast of muskox on a sub-Arctic speck of rock in the North Atlantic? Beyond that there are some tourism plain Janes who have suddenly let down their hair and are proving to be quite fetching. And there’s a promising crop of the shunned or unavailable who are opening up their unseen treasures. The war in Sri Lanka, with its seven World Heritage Sites is over. The pariah state of Zimbabwe with its incredible wildlife, savannahs, is behaving. So, in the spirit of the Times, here are the best of the best. Twenty totally fresh ways to seriously renovate your travel itinerary:

20. Kas, Turkey

Less expensive than Greece, far less overrun than other places in the region, Kas is a happening place. This little fishing village on the Turkish Riviera, the Turquoise Coast is one of those ever-dwindling number of getaways where you can still get away. It has all the active seaside things you’d want: kayaking, trekking and serious diving (with wrecks and underwater sculpture). One Times reader called it “a must for nature lovers”. To firm up both the mind and the thighs, there are hikes along the Lycian Way to see tombs from the pre-Roman Empire. The elaborate ones carved into the mountainsides are extremely impressive and the best ones are a 45 minute drive away in Xanthos. Pronounced “Cash”, it won’t take a lot of yours to enjoy quality down time without the partying hordes.

Kas, Turkey

19. Baku, Azerbaijan

Begin with the walled city dating from the 12th century. UNESCO calls the 15th century Shuirvinshaj’s palace “one of the pearls of Azerbaijan’s architecture which reflects evidence of Zoroastrian, Sasanian, Arabic, Persian, Shirvani, Ottoman, and Russian presence”. Looming over the ancient streets is the gaudy modernity of the Flames Towers, a pair of 600 foot buildings, flame shaped, with thousands of LED lights whose ‘flames’ can be seen for miles. It works as an elegant combination of very old and very new as oil money brings the Mercedes, caviar crowd onto the medieval streets.

Ramil Aliyev / Shutterstock.com
Ramil Aliyev / Shutterstock.com

18. Cáceres, Spain

A phenomenal place that has everything but a beach. History, art, architecture, excellent wine and renowned kitchens. In fact, it is designated as Spain’s Gastronomic Capital for 2015 so there’s a huge buzz about this city of 100,000 near the Portuguese border. The buzz began with the opening of Atrio a striking futuristic hotel-restaurant in the prestigious Relais and Chateau chain with a pair of coveted Michelin Stars. It’s located in the ancient walled city, on UNESCO’s list.  The city was captured by the Moors in the 8th century and not retaken by Christians until 1229. Its towers reflect its Roman, Muslim, Visigoth and Christian rulers. Gothic and Renaissance building abound. Much of the city’s once prominent Jewish quarter survives. The UNESCO citation calls it “Outstanding universal value”. A fairy tale place occupied through history by military powers, though the occupying force today consists of brilliant, creative chefs.

Cáceres, Spain

17. Chengdu, China

Chengdu eminently qualifies for the off the beaten track status, being near Tibet, 1200 miles inland from the coastal colossus of Shanghai. But there are direct international flights sprouting and it’s the panda capital of the world. The Giant Panda Research Base houses about 200 of the much loved bears. It is also the capital of Sichuan cuisine, luring foodies with spicy palates just to eat the tongue tingling cuisine. There is a Chinese saying “the best cuisine is from China, while the richest flavor is from Chengdu”. There are over 60,000 restaurants and another 62,000 caterers. The city isn’t much to look at but it is one of only eight cities in the world with a UNESCO City of Gastronomy Designation.

Chengdu, China

16. Danang, Vietnam

Danang has long been known as a good place to stop over on the way to somewhere else, most notably, the UNESCO heritage sites nearby. The old Imperial city of Hue and the ancient town of Hoi An are short trips away. But a modern skyline is taking shape and the city between the Marble Mountains and the gorgeous beaches on the South China Sea is becoming worthy of a stay on its own. China Beach was a favorite place of GI’s for R&R during the Vietnam War. Beachside luxury resorts are going up, and keep in mind, the exchange rate for the Vietnamese Dong is well over 20,000 to the US$ and Euro making those hotels and signature banh mi Vietnamese sandwiches pretty affordable.

Lauren Ava / Shutterstock.com
Lauren Ava / Shutterstock.com

15. Alentejo, Portugal

It’s something that makes North Americans shake their heads. The beaches of Alantejo (the best in Europe says The Guardian) are relatively unknown because they are remote, a whole two hours from Lisbon. Two hours?  That’s a daily commute in the New World. But all the better for non-Europeans who have no qualms about spending chunks of their lives in cars. Beaches aside there are Roman ruins to be found. Visigoth ruins in fact. Evora is another UNESCO site, an impeccably preserved medieval town. The winemakers produce delicious rich, fruity reds yet Alantejo remains one of the poorest regions of Europe. The crash of the ocean waves, the melodies of the Fado singer in the square, the sense of looking back through time at a disappearing way of life make it a most compelling destination. But hurry, because Michelin stars and oenophile hotels are sprouting already.

Alentejo, Portugal

14. Shikoku, Japan

It’s called the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Eighty eight temples along a 750-mile trail begun in 815 A.D. to honor the much revered monk Kobo Daishi. It is considered a path to spiritual enlightenment. Modern pilgrims can forego the quest for perfection and choose from the many places on Japan’s smallest island that demand a visit. Pick and choose which of the many sites that demand a visit. Matsuyama is the largest city with an imposing castle, ancient hot springs and seven sacred temples. Up in the inland mountains is the Iya Valley; lush, isolated with heart-stopping gorges and vine bridges for the brave. The many hot springs will soothe your mortal coil after a day of incredible hiking or white water rafting.

Matsuyama Japan

13. Papua New Guinea

It’s a good news, bad news kind of story. One of the most remote, exotic places in the world is opening up to tourism. The not so good part is monster cruise ships are just beginning their intrusion on a pristine island country. The beaten track is barely visible from PNG. There won’t be much chilling by the hotel pool here. Because there aren’t a lot of hotel pools, as tourism is still a fledgling industry. There’s a whole new rich ecosystem here wit tribal cultures to experience and timeless beauty in jungles almost lost to time. The 60 mile long Kokoda Track takes hardy trekkers through native villages. Madang in the north is getting famous for diving and PNG as a whole is a birders paradise. Do keep in mind that the capital, Port Moresby has often been rated among the Least Livable Cities in the world. Nobody’s perfect.

Papua New Guinea

12. Greenland

There are still the breathtaking fjords to be cruised, whales to be watched and sunning at midnight to be done. Chalk one up for climate change, Greenland is getting greener (we joke). The amazing UNESCO Heritage Site the enormous Ilulissat Icefjord is at its noisiest and most active during summer sunshine when icebergs the size of mountains heave and crack. It’s a memorable day trip from Ilulissat, the third largest city and there are boat trips out into Disko Bay to get up close and icicle with the massive bergs. As with other northern countries, there’s a movement to modernize traditional cooking, focusing on local ingredients and freshness. Seafood to die for and game, especially muskox are favorites. The Greenland website reassures diners about the taste of muskox “The taste of muskox surpasses that of domestic livestock and, it melts in your mouth bursting with flavor”. Get more acquainted with native culture at the Qasigiannguit Museum with exhibits from the Stone Age to today.

Greenland Hot Springs

11. Georgia

The Georgian word for wine is ‘ghvino’, claimed to be the origin to the English ‘wine’, Italian ‘vino’. They have been making wine here for 7000 years and they are pulling the cork on what the Times calls the next great wine destination. The pleasant capital Tbilisi has a wine bar on just about every corner and there are wine tours of Kakheti, the main producing region. Surprisingly rich in natural beauty, situated between Russia and Turkey, many empires have left their mark on it. There are fabulous old churches, Black Sea resorts and alpine beauty. But it’s the vino attracting the attention now. The Georgian description of a good wine is one that could make a pheasant cry. So an American who came to visit, stayed, and started a vineyard whose wines bear the name “Pheasant’s Tears.”

Kakheti Georgia

10. Sri Lanka

A long deadly civil war made this an island that people only wanted desperately to get out of. Now, a tourism industry is being built where there were battlefields not long ago. The peace has allowed the small island nation to show off its considerable assets. Beaches that go on forever. Eight World Heritage sights. Cuisine to please the pickiest foodie. Sri Lanka is a world tea superpower. Plantations and tea museums are popular. There are safari camps here too, especially in the lush Sinharaja rain forest. Find a treetop yoga studio or luxury spa. At Dam bulla, temples have been carved out of sheer rock and filled with stunning centuries-old Buddhist artworks and artifacts. And last but certainly by no means least, the perfection of the Maldives, a thousand or so islands off the southern coast in the Indian Ocean. It is on the short list for best beach in the world. And if it’s not it, it sure is close.

Sinharaja (Sri Lanka)

9. Oman

­Thoughts of rugged fjords bring forth images of icy Scandinavian inlets with bone chilling cold and sheer granite cliffs. Well, welcome to the Norway of Arabia where the heat can melt your bridgework. Here in the isolated Musandam Peninsula the fjords are called khors. The scene is so other-worldly the BBC compared it to “the shores of a Martian Sea.” Adding to the spice is its location on the Strait of Hormuz, one of the top three places where WW3 is likely to start. Nearby are little-known but spectacular coral reefs making for great diving. Oman is the last part of the Arab world that hasn’t been paved and skyscraperred with oil money. The capital Muscat is a lovely low-key feast of Muslim architecture, old Portuguese forts and bazaars. Its geography ranges from incredible mountainscapes to ancient desert to pristine beaches, but the cranes are becoming more common on the skyline and names like Radisson, Kempinski, Four Seasons and Fairmont are now setting up shop.

Muscat, Oman

8. The North Coast of Peru

A number of places on the list are familiar destinations opening up­ new alternative tourist attractions. The medieval Incan capital of Cusco and the mysterious, celestial Macchu Picchu need no promotion and may even have too many visitors for their own good. The North Coast is remote, as in 22 hours from Cusco. Its Macchu Picchu rival is the fort at Kuélap, a stone city at 10,000 feet. Built by the Chachapoyas, or ‘People of the Clouds’ around the first Millennium, its sophisticated design required more stone to build than the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Eco-friendly hotels and sites abound. The Andean spectacled bear is nearly extinct, but can be found in numbers at the Chipparri Reserve. Surfers will like the waves and vibes in the village of Mancora. For whale watchers and serious fishing types, there is Cabo Blanco, once a favorite of Ernest Hemingway. It’s like a whole new world in Peru’s North Coast, still unspoiled relatively undeveloped and still inexpensive.

Kuélap Peru

7. Tanzania

Home of the timeless, magical Serengeti with its breathtaking scenes and staggering annual migration of more than two million mammals, wildebeests, gazelles and zebras. The Times says “the real new treasure here is unprecedented access to sparsely trafficked regions.” The Selous Game Reserve in the south is home to large populations of elephants and leopards. The landscape in the relatively unknown Arangire National Park unique in the region and is home to climbing lions and giraffe. Trek as far up Africa’s highest mountain in Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park, and when you done following the herds and conquering mountain tops, Zanzibar awaits with its rich history, wonderful beaches and newly upgraded creature comforts.

Moshi, Tanzania Serengeti National Park

6. Zimbabwe

Long run by one of the world’s most despicable despots, Zimbabwe is slowly emerging from pariah status with political stability unseen in years. With the currency next to worthless, a window of tremendous opportunity has opened on a country whose natural beauty cannot be overstated. Infrastructure and travel companies are making visiting easier than ever. There are five UNESCO Sites including the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, said to be the home of the Queen of Sheba. There is the legendary Mosi-oa-Tunya or Victoria Falls the largest curtain waterfall on earth. Stability looks good on the capital Harare, one of the nicest on the sub content, but it’s still the big game safaris that are the biggest draw on open savannahs or in numerous National Parks. It’s truly the stuff that dreams are made of.

Victoria Falls Zimbabwe

5. Medellin, Colombia

Urban renewal with innovative architecture and design. Not long ago the name Medellin was synonymous with drug lords and corruption. It is now becoming known for one of the most ambitious urban transformations in the world. The renewal is epitomized by the futuristic Metrocables, cable cars that unlocked the impoverished people in the surrounding hills from poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods integrating them with the urban renewal below. Similarly, another slum was transformed by the stunning Avant Garde architecture of the Biblioteca Espana. Revel in the night life with the beautiful people at the Parque Llera and enjoy the gentle climate in the place known as City of Eternal Spring.

dubes sonego / Shutterstock.com
dubes sonego / Shutterstock.com

4. Macedonia

According to the Times, this is THE next Balkan destination. The first good sign: there are no McDonalds. All closed. God bless them. The capital Skopje was recently rated one of the 10 least expensive cities in the world. Once one of the great crossroads of history, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and much later Communist empires held sway and left their cultural, architectural and culinary influences. Skopje is a vibrant melting pot of all of them. A surprising treasure trove of natural beauty, there is much to sight-see or for the more active to climb, hike or ride. It is landlocked but the beaches of Lake Ohrid are renowned as are the vineyards are a mere three hour drive across the Greek border.

Macedonia

3. The Faroe Islands

The Faroes are a scattering of rocky islands 150 miles due north of Scotland in the north Atlantic. It has a famously ornery climate and a brooding sub-Arctic other-worldly beauty that traditionally drew bird-watchers, naturalists and trekkers. It is one of the world capitals for those adorable puffins, which also show up on local menus. Its current celebrity is based on a unique new cuisine as set out in The New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto that is traditional Scandinavian food meets The Iron Chef. Not much grows in that climate so they forage for herbs, harvest seaweed and pair them with locally grown mutton and the superb deep-sea Faroe Bank cod and mussels and serve them with wild angelica on driftwood plates, all washed down with schnapps followed by local beer and cheese. An unforgettable feast after an unforgettable day trekking up the highest mountain at Slættaratindur. It is tucked away off the beaten track but as part of Denmark, it’s a short flight from Copenhagen.

Faroe Islands

2. Bolivia

A definite hint  that things are happening here: the culinary genius behind the world’s # 1 rated restaurant for three consecutive years in Copenhagen has opened a place in La Paz. Another South American bad boy turning it around drawing investors and interest in its unsurpassed scenery and cities. It has become a destination for foodies, trekkers wine snobs and adventure seekers. Who knew Bolivia made wine, let alone having an acclaimed wine route?  From the exuberance of La Paz to an array of sublime World Heritage sites to spectacular settings to hike, ski, mountain bike and exhaust yourself to your heart’s content. You can follow Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid south to Tupiza, but lay off the train robbing and your visit will end much happier than theirs.

Potosi, Bolivia

1. Durban, South Africa

Long overshadowed by its two bigger, siblings, Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa’s third largest city is stepping into the limelight. ‘Durbs’ as it’s known is undergoing a serious reno and upgrade, thanks in part to facilities from the 2010 Worlds Cup. The beachside Rivertown neighborhood of warehouses and Art Deco buildings is being transformed into a happening ‘hood of galleries, restaurants and skateboard installations to jumpstart its rather tranquil night life. Durban is also home to a large ethnic Indian community and the influence is unmistakable. It was here that a young lawyer named Mohandas Gandhi settled in 1883 and began his legendary life as activist and leader.

lcswart / Shutterstock.com
lcswart / Shutterstock.com

8 Destinations Putting a Cap on Tourist Numbers

It is quickly becoming a hot debate as more cities and places are talking about placing limits on the number of tourists that visit each year. While some critics argue that putting a cap on the number of tourists will hurt local economies, others argue that we are quickly destroying natural environments and overcrowding cities. The age old question remains then, what is this balance? For these eight places and cities, the solution is to begin implementing a cap on tourist numbers and from Australia to Spain, only time will tell if this is the way of future travel.

8. Bhutan, South Asia

The Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan prides itself on high value, low volume tourism and lets an average of 140,000 tourists in each year. In order to visit this unspoiled landscape and culture, foreign visitors need to get a visa and book their holiday through a licensed Bhutanese tour operator. The Royal Government of Bhutan sets a minimum daily package price each month that visitors have to transfer to the Tourism Council of Bhutan; normally it is between $200-250 a day. This sounds pricey but that money covers all accommodations, meals, guides and internal transport. Part of this money also goes towards a royalty that provides free education, healthcare and poverty alleviation. There are over 75 licensed tour operators to choose from in this country and you can be promised an absolute once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if you visit this awe-inspiring landscape and connect with the people here.

Photo by: EL ANDINO OUTDOOR
Photo by: EL ANDINO OUTDOOR

7. The Forbidden City, Beijing

The Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City announced plans in 2014 to limit the number of visitors to this incredible site to 80,000 a day. The reason for this tourist cap is overcrowding as this museum is the most visited museum in the world, topping over 15 million people in 2014. They are certainly making it easier for more visitors to visit in the winter, offering half price tickets as right now they see the majority of visitors in the summer. New seating, bilingual signage and a ban on tour guides using amplified microphones have all been put in place in recent years to make this experience even better for tourists. Tickets will be purchased online, letting guests know what time they can gain access to the Forbidden City, and this museum should be applauded for quickly figuring out how to reduce tourism in the best of way.

Forbidden City

6. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

These 19 islands that are located approximately 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador are home to roughly 9,000 species, both on land and in water. By the year 2007 both residents and tourists had put such a burden on the ecosystems that the UN listed the destination as an endangered heritage site. Thankfully in recent years they have developed a systematic program that regulates how many tourists are visiting each island daily. Regulations require that visitors must have a trained naturalist guide with them on each island, as the trails change in order to keep them from being overrun. New rules also came into effect that allows travelers to stay for a maximum of four nights and five days per ship. Tourists visiting the islands are only allowed to travel to specific visitor sites and must adhere to the rules and regulations that are set out by the National Parks.

Galapagos Islands

5. Machu Picchu, Peru

It wasn’t long ago that visitors were allowed to roam freely around this 15th-century site, exploring the breathtaking ruins and surrounding landscapes. New regulations are currently being implemented to limit tourists due to conservation efforts. UNESCO and Peru are working together to ensure that this site remains in its pristine condition. The daily limit was once set at 2,500 visitors but recently topped over 1.2 million visitors in 2014. New regulations will require visitors to hire an official guide to enter the Inca Citadel, follow one of three routes through the complex and will face time limits at specific points to keep the crowds moving. Although many fear this will discourage visitors from coming here, it seems unlikely that at least 2,500 won’t visit; the recommended amount.

Machu Picchu, Peru

4. Lord Howe Island, Australia

This seven-square mile island is located 370 miles off mainland Australia and offers rare flora, fauna and marine life. The surrounding crystal clear waters offer more than 400 species of fish and 90 species of coral. It also just happens to be one of the cleanest places on Earth, with 75 percent of the island’s original vegetation undisturbed. Only 350 residents call this island home and only 400 tourists are allowed to visit the island at any one time. This island is geared towards outdoor recreation so plan on snorkeling, hiking, kayaking and bird-watching if you are lucky enough to visit here. There are limited accommodations, no pubs or bars and formal restaurants don’t exist here. But if you are looking to get away from it all and experience a true authentic island, teeming with wildlife, this is the place for you.

Lord Howe Island, Australia

3. Antarctica

Tourism was growing steadily and dangerous up until 2009, when finally the 28 country members of the Antarctic Treaty decided to limit tourism in the region, to prevent it from environmental damage. Recent studies have shown that even short visits to the concentrated landing sites could have an adverse effect on the environment. The main tourism restriction here is the number of passengers and boats, any boat carrying over 500 passengers will not be allowed to dock in the region. Only one boat is allowed to dock in each dock and only 100 passengers are allowed on shore. Today visitors have to travel through operators and organizers who have been approved by their national authorities. Don’t expect to spend too much time in this pristine environment as your time both on-shore and in water will be closely monitored by officials.

Antarctica

2. The Seychelles, Africa

Yes, it is where Prince William and Kate spent their honeymoon and in recent years these islands have seen a tremendous growth of tourists, reaching more than six times the number of residents. Just recently in 2015 the minister of tourism and culture for the Seychelles told the world that they are planning a cap on annual visitors. A ban has already been put in place on the building of large hotel developments and now locally small run properties are the only one granted permission to start operations. Expect to see a cap on the number of visitors by next year, as this group of islands is determined to take the issue of sustainable travel more seriously. Although tourism is the Seychelles single biggest industry, they are determined not to demean the value of these gorgeous islands.

Seychelles

1. Barcelona

Barcelona is the most recent city to consider putting a limit on tourists as the incoming Mayor is determined to put a cap on the number of tourists by the end of 2015. Believing that the city is becoming out of hand and overrun by tourists, as in the last 13 years the numbers have doubled, there seems to be no other solution than to cap the numbers. Any visitor who has been here in the last few years has certainly noticed the throngs of people in their path as they try to make their way through the city. It has also become a sort of landing ground for young backpackers who don’t always have the best intentions. As well as introducing a cap on the number of people to visit, the new mayor also wants to put a six month freeze on new hotel developments and tourist rental apartments. Barcelona wants to assess the tourist situation and understand which areas can sustain further development and increase their intake of visitors, and which places are already overrun.

Top Cities 2013 - Barcelona

The 10 Coolest Train Rides in the World

In the 21st century, train travel has been displaced by other modes of transport, like air travel and automobiles. But many travelers laud the experience of train travel; it’s often faster than a car and, unlike air travel, it allows you to see the landscape as you roll along toward your destination. Reflecting this, many train operations now offer luxury tours for travelers who want to ride in style without missing an opportunity for exploration. Combining amazing scenery, national treasures and elegance, here are 10 of the coolest train rides around the world.

10. Maharajas Express -India

Travel through India on this amazing train journey. Five different routes are offered, departing from either Mumbai or Delhi. Choose from a four day journey or an eight day grand tour of some of the most famous and majestic places on the Indian subcontinent. Partake in Hindu rituals at the ghats of the Ganges or witness a polo match played not on horses, but on the backs of elephants. From ancient civilizations to the Taj Mahal, you’ll see palaces and museums, national parks and beaches on the Heritage of India tour. On the Indian Splendor tour, you’ll have a chance to explore an abandoned kingdom and a dinosaur fossil park. Departures are limited, usually once per month between October and April, so if you want to travel on the Maharajas Express, you’ll want to plan in advance.

Photo by: Maharajas' Express
Photo by: Maharajas’ Express

9. Grand Canyon -USA

Train travel is almost synonymous with the American West; train service was the glue that held the nation together until the mid-20th century. The Grand Canyon Railway captures the Old West feel with its stops at historic train depots and the El Tovar hotel, which was built in 1905. The railway has a number of unique passenger cars, including the dome cars that are peculiar to American railways. Two of the luxury parlor cars feature open-air platforms for observation. Trains depart the Williams depot daily and arrive at the south rim of the Grand Canyon National Park two hours and 15 minutes later. The trains return to Williams around 3:30 in the afternoon. Along the 65-mile journey, the train passes through diverse terrain of the high Sonoran desert and mountainous areas, and passengers might sight any number of animals, including pronghorns, and a variety of plants.

Grand Canyon Railway

8. The Ghan -Australia

Connecting Darwin at the northern tip of the Australian continent and Adelaide on the southern coast, The Ghan makes one of the most fascinating trips in the world. The Great Southern Rail-operated train travels almost 3,000 kilometers over the span of 54 hours, with a four hour stop over in Alice Springs. The train originally ran between Adelaide and Alice Springs, beginning operations in the late 1890s; it wasn’t until 2004 that Darwin was connected. The reasons are obvious: the route runs through vast swaths of the rugged Australian Outback. With the new train in operation, getting to Darwin and seeing the Outback has never been easier, although delays and track trouble still plague the line. Stops at Katherine and Alice Springs allow time for optional tours. The Ghan generally runs once a week, although two services operate weekly between June and September.

The Ghan, Australia

7. Blue Train -South Africa

The South African Blue Train is world-renowned for its luxury service, boasting butlers, two lounge cars, an observation car and private carriages with gold-tinted picture windows. The train takes passengers nearly 1,000 miles between Pretoria and Cape Town. Originally, the service was meant to connect passengers from Johannesburg to England-bound ships in Cape Town. There was a time when four routes were offered, but all have been discontinued except the route between Pretoria and Cape Town. The train makes at least one stop in either direction, allowing guests to explore the Open Mine Museum at Kimberley Station or enjoy a glass of sherry at Matjiesfontein. The journey takes passengers between inland and coastal areas, showcasing the spectacular scenery of the South African landscape. Passengers will journey across scrubland, through mountain foothills and across rivers in the height of luxury. Bring formal wear for your dinner engagement.

Blue Train, South Africa

6. Trans-Siberian -Russia

Not just a single line, the Trans-Siberian Railway is rather a collection of lines that traverse the huge expanse of the Siberian hinterland, connecting European Russia with the Russian Far East, the Sea of Japan and branching into Mongolia, China and North Korea. It is the longest railway in the world, spanning 5,772 miles from Moscow to Vladivostok, and is still being expanded. Even before its completion in 1916, it had become a hotspot for travelers, who then wrote about their experiences. The journey from Moscow takes about six days and crosses seven time zones before dropping passengers on the Pacific Coast. The line is still incredibly important for the transportation of goods and people between Moscow and the Russian Far East, and its historical importance cannot be underscored enough. The journey might not be the most luxurious, but it is certainly a fascinating view of Russia.

TransSiberian Railway

5. Royal Scotsman -UK

If you look at many top-10 lists for rail travel, you’re almost bound to run into the Royal Scotsman, a luxury liner that offers charter tours of the Scottish Highlands in the UK. With a variety of tour options, ranging from two nights in the Highlands to the seven night Grand Tour of Britain, the journey makes plenty of time for stops at local attractions, such as castle ruins, whisky distilleries and iconic natural wonders. Some journeys even include outdoor pursuits like shooting clay pigeons. As you travel, the observation car provides spectacular views of the glens, lochs and villages that make up the Highland vistas. Dining makes use of the best local ingredients and experiences are mixed between formal and informal. Combining luxury with an amazing tour of the Scottish landscape like you’ve never seen before, it’s little wonder the Royal Scotsman ranks highly on so many travelers’ bucket lists!

Photo by: Simon Pielow via Flickr
Photo by: Simon Pielow via Flickr

4. Glacier Express -Switzerland

While the Glacier Express isn’t a very quick trip—in fact, it has a reputation for being the slowest express train in the world—you probably won’t mind as you pass through the Alps between St. Moritz and Zermatt in Switzerland. The 7.5-hour journey takes passengers across 291 bridges, through 91 tunnels and across the Oberalp Pass. Large portions of the railway use a rack-and-pinion system for ascending through the steep Alpine inclines—up to 6, 670 feet at its zenith! Running east-west almost across the length of the country, the train travels through a number of important sites: the Albula/Bernina section of the trip are part of a World Heritage Site and the train journeys through the Rhine Gorge and up to the Matterhorn in Zermatt. Since the 1980s, the trains have run year-round, which means this spectacular trip can be enjoyed by travelers no matter the season.

Glacier Express, Switzerland

3. Eastern & Oriental Express -Thailand to Singapore

The Oriental Express is an actual train service, journeying through the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and, since 2007, Laos. The tour starts in Singapore and stops in Kuala Lumpur, Butterworth and Kanchanaburi before arriving in Bangkok. A guided tour of the River Kwai and a tour of Georgetown, near Penang, are included on the most popular route, although there are nine routes to choose from. The Singapore-Bangkok route takes three days to complete. The journey has been awarded a place on the Society of International Railway Travelers’ “Top 25 Trains” list, earning points for service, dining, beauty and off-train experiences. The service is operated by Belmond, a renowned name in luxury train travel, and is considered one of the best ways to explore Southeast Asia. In 2015, two new “signature journeys” were introduced.

Photo by: Simon Pielow via Flickr
Photo by: Simon Pielow via Flickr

2. Hiram Bingham -Peru

Hop aboard this luxury liner and ride the rails between the city of Cusco and the ancient Inca capital of Machu Picchu. This ride consistently makes the top-10 lists for travelers visiting Peru, and not only because it heads up to the sacred Inca city. Part of the Orient Express, the train operates in both directions and is named after the discoverer of Machu Picchu. Combine slithering through the soaring Andes in the Incan outback with fine dining and a relaxing four hour trip. Guests have brunch on the trip to Aguas Caliente, and dinner if they catch the late train back to Cusco. A local band provides live entertainment during the trip and guests can sample the Peruvian drink pisco as the train rumbles alongside the Urubamba River, which flows from the Sacred Valley. The observation car features an open deck for passengers to better enjoy the view!

Hiram Bingham, Peru

1. Rocky Mountaineer -Canada

The Rocky Mountaineer isn’t one route, but four routes running between Alberta and British Columbia in Western Canada. Formed in 1990, the company operates the busiest privately owned passenger rail service in North America, with more than one million passengers having boarded the train since its inception. The Rocky Mountaineer is a perennial favorite among train travel enthusiasts, having been named the “World’s Leading Travel Experience by Train” seven times and the Society of American Travel Writers’ top train ride in 2009. All four routes run through the rugged Canadian Rockies, some of them following historic routes such as the Canadian Pacific. In 2013, it was announced that a three day trip from Seattle would be offered. All trains operate during the day, with some overnight stops, between May and September. The “Journey through the Clouds” takes passengers over the Canadian National railway through the Rockies, between Vancouver and Jasper.

Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com
Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com

The World’s 50 Best Restaurants of 2015

Foodies Unite. The list of the world’s 50 Best Restaurants of 2015 was just released. It seems that Europe has dominated once again this year with a slew of restaurants from France, Spain and Italy rounding out the top 50. There were some newcomers to the list this year as well, including one from Russia and the United States. Read on to discover why these 50 restaurants were named the best in the world for 2015, and maybe book some dinner reservations at one of these hot spots on your next trip.

50. The French Laundry -Yountville, CA, USA

For more than two decades the French Laundry has been serving up delicious French-American inspired cuisine and shows no sign of slowing down. One unique claim to fame is that no ingredient is ever repeated twice on the same menu. Visitors should expect dishes such as oysters and pearls here.

Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com
Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com

49. Blue Hill at Stone Barns -Pocantico Hills, NY, USA

This is the first time this restaurant has been seen on this list but it certainly won’t be the last. With a farm to table outlook, this restaurant focuses on delivering locally sourced and grown food to diners. Diners won’t find any printed menus here; instead they are subject to a multi-taste menu which includes ever-changing dishes depending on the season.

Photo by: Blue Hill Farm
Photo by: Blue Hill Farm

48. Schloss Schauenstein -Furstenau, Switzerland

Romance meets exceptional cuisine here at this restaurant located in a castle in the Swiss Alps. Chef Andreas Caminada has been awarded three Michelin stars and is considered one of the best chefs in all of Europe. Modern French is the style of food and guests can expect simple and familiar ingredients bursting with aromas, textures and unbelievable flavor. The dining room with its grand marble floors and the extensive wine list make this an unforgettable experience.

Photo by: Andreas Caminada
Photo by: Andreas Caminada

47. Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée -Paris, France

Alain Ducasse has outdone himself once again with this sparkling dining room and unique menu based around healthy eating. The concept here is a menu based on a trilogy of fish, vegetables and cereal; produce that has been caught or grown in a sustainable and organic environment. The stainless steel shells that create the tables, the sparking chandelier and the first-class intriguing menu gets this restaurant an A+.

Photo by: YouTube/Alain Ducasse
Photo by: YouTube/Alain Ducasse

46. Restaurant André -Singapore

Although this restaurant is only five years old, it has taken Singapore and the world by storm with its incredible menu, dining area and uniqueness. Patrons can expect eight courses which reflect Chef André Chiang’s multi-culinary experience. The restaurant is located in a former shop house in China Town and features unusual art pieces and slick service.

Photo by: Foodcations
Photo by: Foodcations

45. Relae -Copenhagen, Denmark

This certified organic restaurant focuses less on elegant service and more on exceptional local food. Diners here will pour their own wine and help themselves to the cutlery in the table drawers. Don’t let that fool you though, the daily changing menu will entice and excite your palette. Using three or four ingredients Chef Christian Puglisi draws on his Italian background and combines that with a New Nordic style of food, creating dishes that look deceptively simple.

Photo by: Tumblr/Relae
Photo by: Tumblr/Relae

44. Maido -Lima, Peru

This restaurant is where you will find the perfect execution of Nikkei food, a blend of Peruvian-Japanese culture. A relatively simple looking restaurant, the focus is on the food here; offering a simple Japanese menu or a 15-course Nikkei menu. Patrons can sit up at the bar to watch the talented chefs’ work as they create dishes such as grilled octopus and confit of guinea pig with molle pepper.

Photo by: Maido
Photo by: Maido

43. Tickets -Barcelona, Spain

Tickets is not just a restaurant but a complete dining experience with high cuisine innovations combined with a fun and exciting atmosphere. This cinema-themed operation serves up an amazing combination of modern Spanish style cuisine blended with flavors from all over the world. Patrons here enjoy letting the staff pick their meals for them, in an atmosphere than can only be described as unique and amazing. It is no surprise this restaurant has made the list.

Photo by: Tickets
Photo by: Tickets

42. Boragó -Santiago, Chile

The emphasis here is sustainable and seasonal dining and with both the Pacific Ocean and the Andes at their fingertips; the local ingredients are never ending. Chef Rodolfo Guzmán is known as a pioneer of Chilean cuisine and can be known to switch up the menu halfway through the evening depending on the availability of local ingredients. Expect Chilean native ingredients combined with the European culinary skill, to create an unforgettable dining experience.

Photo by: Boragó
Photo by: Boragó

41. Maní -Sao Paulo, Brazil

This husband and wife team has done a brilliant job creating a homey, welcoming dining experience that is known for serving exceptional cuisine. Brazilian Born Rizzo Redondo recently won the title of World’ Best Female Chef and continues to create food based on her home roots, combined with her husband’s Spanish influence. Expect to see dishes that feature the catch of the day, foie gras and home-made flours and jams.

Photo by: Mani Manioca
Photo by: Mani Manioca

40. Per Se -New York City, USA

Since it opened in 2004, this restaurant has been on this list every single year and shows no sign of slowing down. The dining room with its impressive floor to glass windows overlooking Central Park sets the stage for an innovative and sophisticated menu. Seasonal American ingredients are often expressed in dishes that draw on French Cuisine, such as 100-day aged beef accompanied by tongue pirogi and borscht.

Photo by: Per Se
Photo by: Per Se

39. Quique Dacosta -Denia, Spain

Chef Quique Dacosta is truly one of the leaders of avant-garde cuisine in Spain and stays true to his roots, using only ingredients that are locally sourced within 75-km from the restaurant. Each dish is truly a work of art and incorporates a mirage of colors. The tasting menus vary in size but some have up to 30 dishes to try; giving patrons the experience of an unforgettable multi-sensory experience.

Photo by: Eye on Spain
Photo by: Eye on Spain

38. Amber -Hong Kong, China

The impressive wine list of over 1,100 wines and the elegant chandelier that features 4,320 bronze rods set the atmosphere for this exquisite French cuisine combined with Asian ingredients. Fish arrives daily and the chef Richard Ekkebus loves to combine the Pacific seafood with flavors from around the world. The finest meats, the finest wine pairings by an award-winning sommelier and a gorgeous atmosphere make Amber the place to be in Hong Kong.

Photo by: Amber
Photo by: Amber

37. Biko -Mexico City, Mexico

A trio of chefs from different backgrounds are creating innovative and fun foods with a big focus on creativity. By combining Spanish and Mexican flavors, this trio is breaking down culinary barriers and highlighting once forgotten ingredients. Visitors should expect dishes such as a cauliflower truffled soup topped with radish pickles and olive spheres or foie gras candy floss.

Photo by: Biko
Photo by: Biko

36. L’Astrance -Paris, France

This tiny Paris restaurant combines French cuisine with Far East flavors such as lemon grass, jasmine and daikon. There is no set menu here and diners simply choose the number of courses they want and the rest is up to chef Pascal Barbot and his team who send out surprise dishes. The wine list is all encompassing, the dining room is chic and modern and the experience is truly once-in-a-lifetime.

Photo by: European Trips
Photo by: European Trips

35. Quintonil -Mexico City, Mexico

With a strong commitment on reducing the ecological footprint of its food combined with a desire to create dishes based on fresh seasonal ingredients and forgotten herbs and grains; Quintonil is taking Mexico City by storm. This restaurant focuses on indigenous produce and aims to highlight fruit and vegetables on the menu, not just for their taste but for their nutritional value as well. Chef Jorge Vallejo makes his debut on the list this year but we guess it won’t be the last time.

Photo by: Quintonil
Photo by: Quintonil

34. Le Calandre -Rubano, Italy

Chef Max Alajmo became the youngest person ever to win three Michelin stars back in 2002 and has since evolved Le Calandre into an excellent restaurant serving modern Italian cuisine. Guests have the choice of three menus here; a classic menu, a more modern take and one that is in-between the two. Diners can expect a level of Italian dining that is hard to find anywhere else with dishes such as extra virgin olive oil risotto with capers, coffee and rose.

Photo by: Le Calandre
Photo by: Le Calandre

33. Aqua -Wolfsburg, Germany

The location itself makes this an unusual and interesting place to eat; Aqua is located on the edge of a theme park right next to the Volkswagen factory. Chef Sven Elverfeld inspires the reinvention of German peasant food in a modern and more global theme. This open-minded kitchen turns out dishes such as fresh local cheese with onion, vinegar and dark malted bread to yellow fin mackerel with guacamole, smoked corn foam and black quinoa.

Photo by: Aqua
Photo by: Aqua

32. Attica -Melbourne, Australia

The location might throw you for a loop as Attica is located deep within the suburbs of Southern Melbourne, but rest assured visitors to this restaurant are in for an unforgettable dining experience. Australian native ingredients are found more often than not on the plates and chef Ben Shewry isn’t afraid to experiment with new meats and spices. Along with the exceptional cuisine, expect a high entertainment factor with visits out to the garden and entertaining service staff.

Photo by: Visit Melbourne
Photo by: Visit Melbourne

31. Restaurant Frantzén -Stockholm, Sweden

Known all over the world for its modern Scandinavian cooking, this restaurant features an open kitchen, seasonal produce grown in its gardens and a bright but intimate dining room. Chef Björn Frantzén designs the flavorful menus with not just taste in mind but presentation as well. The well known signature dish ‘satio tempestas’ changes daily and can contain more than 40 different seasonal vegetables cooked in a variety of ways; all from the garden on-site.

Photo by: Flickr/Frantzen
Photo by: Flickr/Frantzen

30. Vendôme -Bergisch Gladbach, Germany

Pushing the boundaries on traditional German cuisine has ensured that this restaurant get its name well known throughout the world. Drawing on French, Asian and New Nordic influences, Chef Joachim Wissler creates innovative dishes such as a two-part suckling pig dish complete with green and yellow curry sauces. Polished service, views overlooking the bay and a wine list with over 900 choices round out this incredible experience.

Photo by: Vendome
Photo by: Vendome

29. Nihonryori RyuGin -Tokyo, Japan

This intimate 18-seat restaurant looks to present seasonal ingredients through a traditional multi-course Japanese style menu; while introducing new and modern ideas. Patrons can expect dishes with seven different kinds of Japanese fish, complimented by a French leaning wine list. Chef Seiji Yamamoto creates the daily menus based on what is available at the morning markets and has created his own line of teas to compliment the food.

Photo by: RyuGin
Photo by: RyuGin

28. The Test Kitchen -Cape Town, South Africa

Rather than just a restaurant, The Test Kitchen is truly an experience packed full of imagination and artistic flair. The menus are a combination of international techniques, flavors and ingredients and more often than not the meals are turned into works of art. The massive open kitchen allows diners to be part of the process so expect the unexpected when you visit The Test Kitchen.

Photo by: The Test Kitchen
Photo by: The Test Kitchen

27. Piazza Duomo -Alba, Italy

Alba is known all over the world for its truffles and elegant wines and chef Enrico Crippa certainly makes full use of the surrounding natural resources. The approach here is modern Italian mixed with an influence of world-wide flavors and classics are often paired with more daring choices such as olives made with minced veal. The luxurious seasonal white truffle menu is a favorite here and gives the chef an outlet to highlight the region’s most famous export.

Photo by: Piazza Duomo
Photo by: Piazza Duomo

26. Alinea -Chicago, USA

This small Chicago restaurant is not only known for its unconventional approach to food but for its restaurant experience that is like no other. From mood lighting that changes the colors of the walls to expertly trained staff that can read tables and customers unlike any other in the industry, to edible balloons; patrons here will be in a world of delight. This truly personal experience will unfold in front of your over several hours and can only be described as truly remarkable and unforgettable.

Photo by: Alinea
Photo by: Alinea

25. Fäviken -Jarpen, Sweden

It is the world’s most isolated restaurant; Fäviken can only serve 12 diners a night and is only open 34 weeks of the year. The multi-course menu focuses on ingredients that can be forged, hunted or farmed on the 24,000 acre hunting estate in which the restaurant is housed on. Traditional farmhouse cooking techniques are put into place to create irresistible flavors and unique dishes such as scallop cooked over burning juniper branches. The dining room with its slabs of meat and wolf skins create a most memorable dining experience.

Photo by: 90Plus.com
Photo by: 90Plus.com

24. Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet -Shanghai, China

A trip here is certainly unlike any other restaurant experience out there. Guests are driven to Ultraviolet in a mini bus as the location is one of the best kept secrets in this city. Only 10 diners at a time are welcomed into a room with white walls, a white table and 10 white chairs. What follows is a dining experience where each dish is eaten with a different soundtrack and the walls and table are transformed with pictures and film. The 10 course meal is full of delicate but flavorful interesting combinations of flavors.

Photo by: UltraViolet
Photo by: UltraViolet

23. White Rabbit -Moscow, Russia

This Alice in Wonderland themed restaurant features outstanding views of the historic center of Moscow, along with an exceptional menu featuring modern Russian dishes with international inspiration. Chef Valdimir Mukhin focuses on blending Russian produce with luxury ingredients producing meals such as rabbit mini cabbage rolls in foie gras sauce with potato crisps and truffle juice.

Photo by: White Rabbit
Photo by: White Rabbit

22. Nahm -Bangkok, Thailand

Although this restaurant is located in a hotel, there is nothing standard about this dining room. While Chef David Thompson is from Australia, he has taken the Thai world by storm and become an expert at this multi-faceted cuisine. Expect a wide range of traditional Thai cooking here and a tasting menu that will knock your socks off. Thompson loves to play with flavors and spice and most likely the main meal will include something of high spice level. It may not take you hours to complete a meal here but guests will leave feeling like they just ate one of the best meals of their lives.

Photo by: Como Hotels
Photo by: Como Hotels

21. Le Chateaubriand -Paris, France

This restaurant has been a leading force in the revolution of bistros in Paris. Gone are the days of white table cloths and overly expensive meals, they have been replaced by more relaxed atmospheres and excellent cuisine at affordable prices. The no frills dining room, the fixed menu written on the blackboards and the chef’s colorful history set the stage for a perfect dining experience. The food is a combination of French, Asian and Latin America and the lineup changes daily.

Photo by:  Marika Simon
Photo by:
Marika Simon

20. The Ledbury -London, UK

Although Chef Brett Graham originally hails from Newcastle Australia, you wouldn’t know it based on the menu that features the best of British produce along with local meats. The food here is refined, yet gutsy and the service impeccable which is why so many regulars appear to make this there favorite place to eat. One might even find out that the beautifully smoked venison on their plate was bagged by the chef himself.

Photo by: The Ledbury
Photo by: The Ledbury

19. Azurmendi -Larrabetzu, Spain

This dining experience starts when you arrive at the eco-friendly glass building and are immediately taken on a tour of the grounds, greenhouse and gardens. The open kitchen which leads to the dining room sets the stage for a memorable dinner. Chef Eneko Atxa loves to push boundaries and discover new innovative cooking techniques. Guest will experience food such as a truffled egg which is cooked inside out. Invigorating flavors, the utmost creativity and a passionate chef await visitors at Azurmendi.

Photo by: Azurmendi
Photo by: Azurmendi

18. Le Bernardin -New York City, USA

This restaurant was started in Paris in 1972, then it moved to New York in 1986 and has had the same famous head chef since 1994. Needless to say it has won numerous awards, been the favorite seafood restaurant of New York for decades and continues to amaze guests with its spectacular raw fish dishes. Traditional French cuisine meets skillful Japanese techniques in this example of extraordinary dining.

Photo by: Eric Ripert
Photo by: Eric Ripert

17. Arzak -San Sebastian, Spain

The father daughter team of Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak Espina seem almost unstoppable in conquering the culinary world in this region that is full of creativity and fertility. Juan Mari Arzak is known for having pioneered modern Basque cuisine and they have combined local flavors with international sauces and compliments. Visitors here should expect a modern twist on all of their favorite local cuisine.

Photo by: Juan Mari Arzak
Photo by: Juan Mari Arzak

16. Pujol -Mexico City, Mexico

Pujol is consistently rated as one of the top 20 restaurants in the world and is known as the very best in Mexico. Determination to use native ingredients and modern cooking techniques create unusual flavors, while inventing new dishes and recreating the old has given this chef a leg up over others. The main focus here is the attention that is paid to making sure each and every last detail of a dish is perfect, and each flavor is exposed to its finest.

Photo by: Pujol
Photo by: Pujol

15. Steirereck -Vienna, Austria

Chef Heinz Reitbauer aims to create the very finest of contemporary Austrian cuisine in a relaxed, chic setting and he does so quite memorably. He is in fact known for his cutting edge techniques and using the finest ingredients from his hometown. Many of the ingredients actually come from his family’s own farmstead. Expect innovative dishes such as the freshwater Char cooked in beeswax with yellow carrot, pollen and sour cream.

Photo by: Steirereck
Photo by: Steirereck

14. Astrid y Gastón -Lima, Peru

This restaurant coexists with a bar, experimental herb garden and development kitchen in a deprived area of Lima but don’t let that stop you from visiting. Take a trip down memory lane with a menu that tells the story of each individual dish and how they relate to growing up in Peru. The dishes use ingredients from all over this rich diverse country and one certainly gets a taste of Peruvian history at this restaurant.

Photo by: Astrid y Gastón
Photo by: Astrid y Gastón

13. Asador Etxebarri -Atxonodo, Spain

Chefs flock from all over the world to see Chef Victor Arguinzoniz in action over his wood grill, as he is hailed as the founding father of creative barbecue in Europe. Ingredients here are simple and fresh, with many that have been grown, picked and butchered by the chef himself. Everything on the menu hits the wood grill and has the delicate taste of smoke throughout, creating a simple yet delicious and exceptional experience.

Photo by: Naoyuki Honda
Photo by: Naoyuki Honda

12. L’Arpège -Paris, France

This restaurant is taking vegetables to a whole new level and making them the forefront of an incredible menu. Think beetroot tartar instead of the traditional beef tartar and an emphasis on ingredients such as grapefruit, almonds and sweet peas. Considered a culinary genius, Chef Alain Passard creates sensational tasting food with a contemporary French feeling.

Photo by: Arpege
Photo by: Arpege

11. Mirazur -Menton, France

Perched on a hillside overlooking the sea with floor to ceiling glass windows, this restaurant is big on highlighting local seafood. Pairing that seafood with herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables that are grown in the garden to create exceptional dishes is the primary approach here. Innovating cooking techniques, artfully presented plates and a combination of French, Italian and Argentinean flavors make this dining experience amazing.

Photo by: Mirazur
Photo by: Mirazur

10. Gaggan -Bangkok, Thailand

Progressive Indian is the style of food here in this downtown Bangkok restaurant. The approach taken by Chef Gaggan Anand is to take street dishes and deconstruct them, creating new innovative menu items without losing the flavors. This restaurant also features liquid nitrogen, smoke and dehydrated ingredients to give additional texture and flavor to its dishes, as well as adding a little bit of dinner theater.

Photo by: Gaggan
Photo by: Gaggan

9. D.O.M -Sao Paulo, Brazil

This is one of the most expensive restaurants in Brazil but considering that many of the ingredients come from deep within the interior of the Amazon, that’s no surprise. Chef Alex Atala is known for searching out new ingredients and bringing them back to his restaurant for diners to try. The dining room is formal, yet relaxed and the emphasis here is on reshaping Brazilian food and convincing others to use the natural resources that are so plentiful.

Photo by: Luis Balboa Coñoen
Photo by: Luis Balboa Coñoen

8. Narisawa -Tokyo, Japan

This restaurant is truly a representation of the chef, the landscape and his love for the natural world. Although Japanese products are the focal point here, there is a strong influence of French cooking. Known internationally for being one of the best restaurants in the world, Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa takes great pride in his thoughtfully constructed food and wine list. It may be in fact the best place to appreciate the wine making of Japan.

Photo by: Narisawa
Photo by: Narisawa

7. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal -London, UK

Less than five years old this restaurant has made leaps and bounds, becoming a restaurant that recreates British culinary history. Forgotten dishes are brought back to life and reinvented using modern cooking techniques and present day ingredients. The dining experience is not thwarted by theatrics or entertainment; instead they let the flavors speak for themselves.

Photo by: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Photo by: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

6. Mugaritz -San Sebastian, Spain

This dining experience is more of a journey through food rather than just a sit down restaurant with set menus. Guests here will experience 24 individually tailored courses based on their dietary needs and wants. It is not just the flavors here that are important to Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz but the smells and textures he provides in his dishes. Edible cutlery and centerpieces along with the breathtaking scenery from the small wooden dining room will only make the experience that much more unique.

Photo by: Mugaritz
Photo by: Mugaritz

5. Eleven Madison Park -New York City, USA

Walking into this restaurant one might think that it appears quite grand, formal and perhaps a bit stuffy but one would be wrong. It is indeed playful and interactive from the service to the food itself. Co-owners Daniel Humm and Will Guidara have done a remarkable job in running both the back and front of house in the best ways possible, thus creating an unforgettable dining experience. Tasting menu’s frequently feature New York’s agricultural bounty but this duo has been known to tailor dishes specific to each guest individually.

Photo by: Fresh Local and Best
Photo by: Fresh Local and Best

4. Central -Lima, Peru

This is a whole new dining experience as the chefs take guests on a vertical tour of Peru through food.  The tasting menu features ingredients sourced at various altitudes, starting from 25 meters below to 4,200 meters above sea level. Diners are faced with ingredients found and tasted nowhere else in the world as well as being treated to food grown in the urban gardens onsite. There is a true sense of dedication here to discovering new local ingredients and how to best use them in the dishes.

Photo by: Central
Photo by: Central

3. Noma -Copenhagen, Denmark

Noma has been open since 2003 and is hailed as one of the most influential restaurants of the century, and thus it is no surprise to see it at the top of this list. The focus here is creating dishes based on what’s in season and playing with techniques such as pickling and fermenting. The cuisine style appears to be more of an interpretation of Nordic food and Chef René Redzepi and his teams are known for their ability to assimilate culinary cultures other than their own.

Photo by: Wikipedia
Photo by: Wikipedia

2. Osteria Francescana -Modena, Italy

At 20 years old, this restaurant and its chef have nailed down impeccable service and food. Chef Massimo Bottura is internationally known around the world but remains true to his Italian roots in his cooking. The menu is loaded with Italian classics such as risotto cooked with veal jus, along with many classics that have a unique twist. Local, seasonal ingredients are used, the wine program is impeccable and the atmosphere sets the stage for a perfect dining experience.

Osteria Francescana
Photo by: Bucketlist Blog

1. El Celler de Can Roca -Girona, Spain

The trio of the Roca brothers who collectively run this restaurant have certainly not forgotten their humble roots. The dining experience in the glass-walled dining room complete with an innovative menu, delicious wine pairings and a soothing atmosphere makes this the number one restaurant in the world this year. Add in the fact that this team does everything to educate and inspire the team they lead through unusual initiatives, including a restaurant tour in 2014 across the Southern United States and Latin America; and it is easy to understand why they are number one.

Photo by: El Celler de Can Roca
Photo by: El Celler de Can Roca

7 Countries Spice Lovers Must Visit

Some people can’t get enough of that lip numbing, sweat breaking heat of eating something really spicy. True spice enthusiasts will admit it’s practically an addiction. There are a few countries out there whose cuisine falls right in line with this need for heat so if you’re a spice junkie, consider traveling to one of these top destinations for spicy cuisine.

1. Jamaica

Now it’s no secret that Jamaicans like things hot, and while it’s usually not too difficult to find a great roti or jerk outside of the Caribbean, nothing beats going to the source. Traditional Jamaican cuisine gets its distinctive heat from the Scotch Bonnet chili pepper which has a heat rating of 100,000-350,000 Scoville units (the heat rating scale used for chili peppers). In comparison, a jalapeno pepper has a Scoville rating of 2,500-8,000 units…proof this pepper packs a punch. Your likely to find it used as a marinade for meats and in fresh sauces as a condiment.

Jamaica

2. Thailand

Unlike some other countries which make use of many dried spices and chilies, Thai cuisine is all about freshness. It’s vibrant and complex dishes make use of many fresh herbs and chilies to give it that distinct fresh spicy heat you know and love. Probably the most commonly used chili in Thai cuisine is the Bird’s Eye Chili. It’s sliced, diced and chopped and added fresh to many dishes and stir fry’s. Thailand is also well known for fabulous street food so there’s no doubt you’ll find something sizzling and spicy to grab while you explore.

Thailand

3. Mexico

Poblano, pasilla, jalapeno, serrano, piquillo…those are just a few of the many chili peppers used in Mexican cuisine. So if you want to experience the real deal head south of the border and immerse yourself in what’s arguably the most chili driven cuisine in the world. Variety is key with Mexican cuisine as there are so many chilies used so many ways including whole dried, fresh, ground and smoked.  While visiting it’s essential to try an authentic mole, made from smoked and dried chilies or a delicious fresh ceviche, spiced with fresh chilies.

Mexico city

4. Peru

South America as a whole has a passionate love for chilies of all kinds but if it’s heat you’re craving, don’t pass up visiting Peru. Notorious for the use of fresh chilies in many dishes as well as fresh chili sauces as condiments, the most popular peppers to Peruvian cuisine are the Ají Limon and the Ají Amarillo chili. The Amarillo chili has been tingling taste buds for many millennium as its roots date back to ancient Peru. If you want to try something authentic on your travels keep an eye out for a stew called Aji de Gallina which is usually chicken in a spicy creamy sauce made bright yellow from the Amarillo chilies.

Lima Peru

5. Malaysia

Like the country itself, Malaysian cuisine is a melting pot of influences from surrounding areas. Summarized into 3 main types there’s Malay, Chinese and Indian, essentially combining the best of spicy cuisine into one delicious food experience you don’t want to miss. At the center of Malaysian cuisine are chili peppers, used both fresh and dried with the most popular being the bird’s eye chili used commonly in Thailand as well as green chilies. A favorite condiment of the Malay’s is Sambal, which is a pungent sauce made from various chili peppers, vinegar and spices like ginger, garlic and lime.

Malaysia Putrajaya

6. China

One word: Sichuan. The addictive lip numbing, tongue tingling cuisine originating from the Sichuan province of southwest China. This cuisine is infamous for its liberal use of chili oil, dried chilies and of course the signature Sichuan peppercorn, giving the many stir-fry style dishes their kick. Spice addicts will tell you that finding a great authentic Sichuan restaurant isn’t the easiest task but if you get the chance to visit China yourself, head to this southwest province and you’ll have no problems getting your sweat on.

 

Meiqianbao / Shutterstock.com
Meiqianbao / Shutterstock.com

7. India

It’s only fair that the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of chili peppers tops this list. Indian cuisine is very much like the country, bright and full of flavor and their use of complex spice blends along with the heat of chillies is something to experience. India is actually home to what’s widely considered the world’s hottest pepper: the Bhut Jolokia or Ghost Pepper. So whether you like a nice hot vindaloo, curry or samosa you’ll find plenty of options in this country.

India Market