Our Top “Travel Experiences” over the last 10 years
More and more, people travel to places not just for sightseeing but to have ‘a travel experience’. It can be wine tasting, swimming with sharks, doing meditation in an Indian ashram, volunteering at an animal sanctuary…there’s no limits to “travel experiences”.
Looking back over the last 10 years we’ve had a lot of travel experiences. I’m listing our most memorable below, maybe they’ll inspire some of you to follow in our footsteps. I’d also love readers to tell us some of their favorite travel experiences. We’re always looking for ideas.
Muay Thai in Thailand
In 2018 we spent a month in Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand. One of our goals while there was to get in the best shape of our lives.
We checked out the best Muay Thai gyms when we arrived and went with the most authentic looking gym. It smelled of sweat, wet leather and of Tiger Balm. It wasn’t particularly well kept. But the clients and trainers were serious. Most were there to get in shape and some to train to fight professionally.
We loved it. Classes were 2 hours long and we would go 5 days of the week. It was a fantastic workout and there was a camaraderie among participants. We met people from all over the world, some who had taken a 6 month leave of absence from their ‘ordinary lives’ to come to Thailand to learn Muay Thai. When we left it was with regret – we wished it was something we had done earlier in our lives.
It’s definitely one of our top travel experiences.
More here: Where to do Muay Thai in Chiang Mai
Paragliding in Cape Town (South Africa)…and dinner at a Game Lodge
We did a lot of adventure activities in South Africa including hiking Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. Incredible. And Lissette bungeed the Bloukrans Bridge, the highest bungee from a bridge in the world.
But my highlight was paragliding from Signal Hill over Cape Town. It was my first time paragliding and it was spectacular – because Cape Town is one of the most beautiful spots on earth.
South Africa is my favorite place that we’ve visited over the last 10 years and if you like nature, geography and adventure activities I don’t think any place can beat it.
More here: Paragliding over Cape Town
Another great experience in South Africa: if you make it to Oudtshoorn (which you should), have dinner at the Buffelsdrift Game Lodge. The lodge has a restaurant looking out over a lake and we saw hippos, giraffes, wilderbeest and nyala while having a great meal (they also have luxury accommodation and, having known that, we would have stayed there for a night).
One of the World’s great train journeys through Copper Canyon (Mexico)
El Chepe is the nickname given one of the greatest train journeys in the world – that between Chihuahua in Central Mexico and Los Mochis on the Pacific Coast (a distance of 635 km, or 395 miles). It is usually done over several days with stops along the way.
None of those stops is as spectacular as that in Divisadero, at the heart of the Copper Canyon. Step out of the train here and you’re looking into the abyss of the canyon. In Divisadero, the canyon is 1,879 m (6,200 feet) deep and approximately 4 km (2.5 miles) wide. It is incredible.
Divisadero has a hotel looking out at the Canyon (the Hotel Divisadero Barrancas) and which you can use as a base for some activities which should include a visit to Copper Canyon Adventure Park. There you can do the world’s longest zipline (which I did), take a cable car across the canyon or do rappelling, ATV, or dirt biking. Or you can just have a beer and enjoy the views.
The whole experience – the train journey and a stop in Divisadero – is phenomenal and one of my all-time favorite travel experiences.
More here: Divisadero – the highlight of the Copper Canyon, Mexico
Great Driving Experiences in Croatia and South Africa
I’ve had a couple of driving experiences I’ll never forget.
The town of Makarska has the most incredible coastal geography in Croatia (in my opinion). That’s because the backdrop to Makarska is Mount Biokovo, the highest mountain in Dalmatia and the 3rd highest mountain in Croatia (at 1,762 meters).
What most people don’t know is that you can drive to the very top of Mount Biokovo. It’s the highest road in Croatia. I did that with my Croatian friends Vedran and Goran.
It’s a 23 km drive through Biokovo Nature Park and there are spectacular viewpoints and trails along the drive. There’s a restaurant and even a little area where you can see cows and donkeys. So it’s a Nature Park that the whole family can enjoy.
The thing is that most travellers coming to Croatia have never heard of Biokovo Nature Park.
More here: Driving Spectacular Mt. Biokovo, Croatia
The other spectacular driving experience Lissette and I had was driving the Swartberg Pass in South Africa, the (scary) pass over the mountains that separate The Little Karoo from the Great Karoo (both are semi-desert regions in South Africa’s interior).
The pass was an engineering feat when it was built in the late 1880’s by convict labour. Its 27 km skirt the mountains. There are few (if any) barriers in place and there are lots of hairpin bends where you’ll be looking right over the edge. But the views are incredible just as is the geology of the mountains.
Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica
Costa Rica was among the most disappointing of our trips. But there was one highlight that we’ll never forget and it was staying in a yoga retreat in Santa Teresa (a small town on the Nicoya Peninsula).
I had arranged this stay for Lissette because she’s always done yoga. I knew she’d love being in a place where she could practice yoga for a week. On the other hand, I had never done yoga and I was worried that I’d be stuck eating salads and talking to tree-hugging yogis. It wasn’t anything like that.
The “retreat” was actually a hotel – the Horizon Ocean View Hotel and Yoga Center – beautifully situated on a hill looking over Santa Teresa. The rooms were small but fashionable (built with bamboo). The whole property was full of tropical trees. Upon arrival in our room, we peered up through our sky roof to see a huge iguana resting on one of our bungalow’s beams.
The setting was beautiful and peaceful.
Our usual day consisted of a 1 ½ hour yoga class at 9 am. After that we’d have an amazing breakfast at the restaurant. It would usually be omelettes or cereal with the most amazing coffee and smoothies we’ve had in our lives (being a yoga place everything of course was vegetarian).
The rest of the day was ours. The hotel was next to town and not far from the beach so we’d go for walks. They also arranged tours for you at affordable prices. There was also an option of afternoon yoga classes for those who were yoga fanatics (once a day was enough for me). We spoke to a lot of people while sitting in the restaurant area and they were an international mix and not the dreadlock yoga types I feared we’d meet. Most were professional people who just came here to relax and do yoga.
And that’s what we did for a week. It was one of the most relaxing, peaceful places we’ve been and after 3 weeks of kind of hating Costa Rica, I actually called up our airline to see if we could delay our return flight. That’s how much we enjoyed this travel experience.
More on that here: An Incredible Yoga Retreat in Santa Teresa (Costa Rica)
Hiking in Morocco
In December of 2019 I spent 5 weeks in Morocco. The natural beauty is amazing and while there were many highlights there were two hikes that stayed with me.
The first was in the Imlil area, 1 ½ hours south of Marrakesh in the Atlas Mountains. The highlight here in Mount Toubkal, the 2nd highest mountain in Africa at 4,167 meters.
While I didn’t hike to the top of Mount Toubkal, I did plenty of hiking during my 3 days there. It was spectacular, some of the most beautiful mountain scenery I’ve seen.
More here: 3 days in Aroumd, Imlil, and Toubkal National Park
The other hike was completely different.
I was in Merzouga, at the edge of the Sahara desert, where the dunes are the highest in Morocco.
While I did many activities there including riding an ATV and a camel (at sunset. Another great experience) my highlight was walking out in the desert on my own and hiking through the dunes for a couple of hours. It was my very first time in the desert and I was amazed by the beauty and the peacefulness of it. I actually walked about 5 km out to the very end of the dunes where I found myself looking out over the Algerian border and the “black desert” that lay beyond (I never realized that the Sahara was not just sand dunes).
A fantastic experience.
More here: Merzouga and why it is one of the highlights of my 5 week Morocco trip
The above were all epic experiences and might be a bit off the beaten path or require too much planning for many people. But we had other great travel experiences over the last 10 years that are more accessible.
In Kyoto (Japan). I did a Ninja training class, Lissette dressed as a Geisha, and we did Karaoke in a Karaoke bar.
In Praque (Czech Republic). We shot guns (including submachine guns) in an old underground tunnel, I practiced my hockey skills at the Czech Hockey Hall of Fame, and we searched out the weird and unusual (it was our 4th time in the city and we were looking for things ‘to do’ as opposed to things ‘to see’). See this post on Unusual things to Do in Prague for that and a whole bunch of other ideas.
In Florence (Italy). Lissette still talks about our Florence Food Tour which included wine, olive oil, and gelato. We had tastings of pasta, cheeses and meats and learned a lot in the process.
In Split (Croatia). While I was away in Mexico, Lissette did an “Airbnb Experiences” (people may have noticed that Airbnb has now gotten into the ‘Tours’ and ‘Experiences’ game). This was a “painting and wine” experience at a local studio where she got a paint lesson combined with services of Croatian wine. Most of the people attending the class were Croatians and she had a great time.
We’ve done many other experiences including wine tasting, escape rooms, and cooking classes. But it was the experiences that I list above that rank amongst our best ever “Travel Experiences”.
What’s your Best Travel Experience?
Related: Why “Off the beaten path” places are sometimes the best places to Visit
Related: Is it safe to Travel? The weird and scary from 6 years of full-time travel
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One of my most memorable travel experiences was visiting Cuba. I fell in love with the country which is famous for the classic cars filling its streets. One day my friend and I hired a bright pink 1952 Chevrolet convertible with gleaming white upholstery and a cheerful, friendly driver to take us on a tour of Havana. Oh the joy, wind in our hair and smiles on our faces, reliving our teenage years. Well, not really, more like the teenage years we’d wished we had! It was the most fantastic fun. Later we went to El Floridita, the hang out of Ernest Hemingway, and drank mojitos while a band played Cuban music. I remember thinking that in that moment I was as happy as it was possible to be.
Had some of the same Cuban experiences, except for the Chevrolet convertible. Sounds like a fun time 🙂
The most amazing travel experiences I had were in Romania. The food is all fresh, with chicken and sour cream soup being truly outstanding. People are friendly. The country is ringed by the Carpathian Mountains, which are like the Alps, but unspoiled. Farmers still use horses to pull plows and carts. They still build haystack by hand. It’s like a Brueghel painting.
The roads are very bumpy, and we stayed at some old Soviet family hotels on the Black Sea (interesting old brutalist concrete buildings with cafeterias) so it isn’t recommended for people who want luxurious vacations..but the country is beautiful, with many old castles, medieval walled towns, and frescoed church’s. And, no tourists. Dee
frank amazing experiences. what a great way to get in shape, something i badly need to do but right now im as unmotivated as I have ever been. I must put the Copper Canyon train journey on my bucket list
Great places, lot of them I want to go to some time in the future. My trip plans for next year are uncertain, I was thinking on doing Portugal (we have not been there) and then Andalucia but the news about Spain and Portugal are terrible here in US, Covid cases are out of control and my wife wouldn’t like to go there at this time, so I have been thinking about the Balkans, what places would you recommend, choosing from 2 or 3 countries, for a one month vacation, exclude Croatia and Greece, we were there in 2019, due to some members of our group of 5 having some difficulty walking, just beautiful and interesting cities or towns (no hiking and just some or no stairs) with good terraces and views to sit and relax (and a cup of wine) like every 30 minutes walk, we are not in a hurry and all of us enjoy looking at churches and other buildings and of course museums.
Tell me how really is the situation in Spain about the virus. Say hello to Lissette
Numbers are going up, just a couple of weeks after Spain announced that the country is open to tourism and that you can walk around with no mask (* provided you can socially distance by 1 1/2 meters…and who can do that?). This time it’s mostly unvaccinated young people.
Really, no surprise, it’s happened twice before. You open things up and suddenly people go around as if Covid never existed. Amazing. But you know what? Walking around town it’s foreigners and expats who are most relaxed with masks – the ordinary Spaniard is still wearing them.
Just spoke to Lissette (she says hi back. Says you’re always a gentleman) about Balkans and we both shuddered when you mention people having difficulty walking. Because the Balkans in general are never ending steps. But assuming you’re in no rush you’ll find lots of terraces.
Mostar (B&H). I think you’ll love. Some challenging walking (cobblestone streets and the bridge a bit of a hurdle). But you can’t not see Mostar if coming back to the Balkans. There are things on the outskirts if you self drive or take a tour.
Sarajevo (B&H). The center is pretty flat so no problem. But some highlights (I recommend a tour where they’ll drive you) will take you into the hills that surround Sarajevo.
Note: if you fly into Sarajevo, take the train to Mostar. Great ride.
Belgrade is a flat city. No issues. Big city but has some points of interest and I think it’s essential to a well-rounded itinerary of the Balkans.
Kotor in Montenegro is absolutely stunning and one of the most beautiful places we’ve been. But getting up to the fortress of St. John will be an impossibility for some in your crew. Still very much worth a visit.
Slovenia is many people’s favorite place in the Balkans. We haven’t seen much there. Ljubljana is pretty but over-rated in my opinion. Piran on the coast nice. But people go to Slovenia for Lake Bled and some of the other national parks. Guide to Slovenia.
We actually both also liked Sofia and Plovdiv in Bulgaria.
Have you seen this post? Might give you some ideas.
If you need anything feel free to write me personally Carlos!
Thank you both for all the recommendations, I think I will put them in order and will organize the trip. About Covid, here and everywhere is the same, young unvaccinated people making others sick, I think everybody is rushing a lot to open without enough regulation. Take care and have wonderful trips.
Jane van der Spuy
Those all sound like amazing experiences! Just a note though – next time South Africa is on your itinerary please let me know. I bet we can up your game dinner experience 😉 #justsaying. But apart from that we love showing people our beautiful country and it’s not just limited to Cape Town. We live in Kwazulu Natal – two and a half hours drive from the magnificent Drakensberg mountains and about 3 hours from some glorious game reserves.
Love your blogs and can’t wait until we can all travel again.
If there’s a place I want to get back to it’s South Africa. Had such a wonderful time, the people so friendly, the geography incredible, and the quality of food and wine stupendous. Went to a few wineries (like Boschendal) and just amazed by the quality of everything. And so few other tourists compared to anywhere in Europe. Africa is, in my opinion, the best continent on earth for a traveller looking for adventure while doing it in style (and good value).
So we might take you up on that offer Jane!