Travel Destinations that Exceed Expectations

One of the great moments in travel is when a destination exceeds expectations; that feeling of delightful surprise when a place is better than you imagined. Of course this all hinges on your expectations. Friends could have talked a great place up and you feel disappointed even though it wasn’t that bad; or the reverse, friends say how crowded and unpleasant a particular sight was and you find it empty on a beautiful spring day. 

I try to keep my expectations in check, hoping for that magical moment, but even so in these times of overzealous guidebooks and bloggers it’s hard not have grand expectations. In this year of Covid-19 posts I’ve selected those spots that left me smiling all day. Some were highly recommended and some not so much, but they all left a special mark, one of the reasons we travel.

Ice Trekking on the Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

Not all glaciers are created equal and the Perito Moreno is by far the prettiest and most impressive glacier I have ever seen. It’s a relatively fast moving glacier that stays much cleaner looking than most. Many glaciers are covered in dirt or dirty snow but the Perito Moreno glistens. Even better you can walk the glacier. This is not just a flat walk on ice but a path that winds up and down through the formations and deep blue crevices. More spectacular, we had the chance to visit an ice cave, not normally available on the mini ice trekking excursion. The deep violet colors inside the cave were one of the most stunning sights I have ever seen.

Siq Trail, Mujib Biosphere Reserve, Jordan

A 2 hour hike up a river obstacle course through a slot canyon might not sound like fun to everyone, but for me this was a blast. It’s just hard enough to be challenging for someone in moderately good shape but not frustrating. The canyon is beautiful and the water and air were the perfect temperature in mid-May. The other stroke of luck is that we were the only visitors when the park first opened in the morning.

Okunoin Cemetery, Koyasan, Japan

With Kyoto crazy crowded these days I was amazed to see relatively few visitors in the mountain temple town of Koyasan. True, it can be a hassle to get there but the Okunoin Cemetery was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. This ancient cemetery has stones dating back to the 9th century with mature Japanese cedars towering above. The 2 kilometer walk along a path through the extensive grounds to the Memorial Hall has numerous corners to explore.

Aven Armand Cave, Tarn Gorge, France

Every cave is touted as a regional must see. Most leave me with the feeling of wondering why I let myself be suckered into yet another ho-hum cave. The Aven Armand cave near Tarn Gorge in central southern France was the exception. Filled with exquisite stalactites and stalagmites crammed in a sizable chamber, this isn’t a huge cave but it may be the most beautiful.

Otter Trail, Tsitsikamma, South Africa

How this section of coastline stays under the radar I’ll never understand.  The orange rocks pop against a blue sky while squalls frequent creating a dramatic combination of storming skies and rocking wave action. For those partial to rugged shorelines it’s one of the most beautiful in the world. The 5 day hike is restricted to 12 people starting each day. With at least two river crossings it’s not for the casual hiker, but the combination of amazing scenery, solitude and adventure makes it my favorite hike in the world.

Easter Island

I had wanted to see Easter Island for years, but requiring a 5 hour flight from Santiago, Chile – the closest airport – it’s not a quick add-on to a trip to South America (or anywhere). I had also read that the island was becoming over-touristed.  To our surprise visiting the island was quite pleasant and low key. Sure, it can seem like everyone on the island is at Ahu Tongariki at sunrise – they probably are – but most places were relatively empty. Tour groups travel in small vans rather than large buses and the most popular sites are restricted to one visit per trip to the island.

The beauty of travel on the island is you can rent a Suzuki Jimny – the vehicle of choice – and easily visit the sights on your own. The moai are as fascinating as advertised, especial at the quarry where they carved the statues. There was also great hiking and best yet some of the most incredible wave action I’ve ever seen.

Dussehra Festival, Varanasi, India

Varanasi, known for ceremonies along the famed Ganges river – from daily bathing to cremations – is a sight unto itself, but surprisingly less touristed than other parts of India.

When we were traveling through Varanasi it just happened to be during Dussehra, a 10 day festival held in October. We easily got a good room without having to plan far in advance and I couldn’t find much on the internet about the festival so I wasn’t expecting much. It turned out to be a spectacular show with few tourists about. The festival centers on female effigies that are carried through town to one of the Ghats where locals chant, dance and take up-close pictures of her face before she is loaded on a small wooden barge. After more dancing and chanting she is immersed, really dumped, in the river.

Safari, Tanzania

Between not being an animal lover and the high cost, safari was not high on my bucket list. But after I let a friend talk me into a week in the Tanzanian Serengeti I was hooked. The density and proximity of the animals is like nothing else. It feels like you are living a National Geographic’s photo. Even more astounding is the opportunity to take your own top notch photos. Highlights of the adventure included watching herds of wildebeest cross the Mara River, lionesses and their cubs of central Serengeti and the elephants of Tarangire.

Salar de Surire, Chile

One of the most stunning days on our trip through Northern Chile, was the drive from Putre to Colchane via the Salar de Surire. This remote region of volcanoes, salt pans and colorful cliffs sees far fewer tourists than the area around San Pedro de Atacama further south. We also found a higher concentration of llamas, vicuña and suri  (an ostrich looking bird).

Hiking the Julian Alps, Slovenia

I generally avoid rainy hiking destinations so I find it surprising that one of my favorite hiking regions is the rainiest sections of the Alps, and it rained on us every day of our week long stay. Basing ourselves in Kranjska Gora I watched the weather forecast and timed our hikes between showers. It worked out pretty well and we didn’t get stuck in any downpours. Better yet, the stormy skies only enhanced the dazzling landscape. In late June there was still snow in the high mountains but few other hikers.

Cappadocia, Turkey

The volcanic chimneys of this arid region of central Turkey blew me away. While it is a popular tourist destination with masses crowding the main sights, it is also possible to walk a short distance and find solitude among these fascinating and photogenic formations.

2 thoughts

Comments are closed.