travel

10 Best Places I Traveled to This Year

St Regis Maldives Overwater Sunset Villa

What a ride — in 2019 I had the chance to visit new countries in Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia. Through my job (when I’m not working on Naïra NYC) as a travel and lifestyle writer, I get to see a lot of the world’s best locations for “work”. It’s a real privilege to get to experience some of the most beautiful spots on the globe, so I thought I would share some of my highlights to help you plan where to travel in 2020. Here are some places I loved and the experiences that were particularly dear to me while I was there:

1. Jamaica
I’ve always felt connected to Jamaica through the music and the food (jerk is life), so it’s crazy that I had never actually been to Jamaica. In February, I finally had the chance to visit and the experience was just as great as I had anticipated. I stayed at Bluefields Bay on Jamaica’s South Coast which was a serene, all-inclusive oasis. The chef there caters to your palate and the staff will know your drink of choice (in my case, rum punch) by day two of being there. I recommend visiting nearby VS Falls for some waterfall and natural pool action.

Tip: Head to Pelican Bar, a bar completely surrounded by water. It’s touristy but worth the visit for the unique experience, and where the picture above was taken.

Desert X

2. Palm Springs
Even though I live in New York I rarely travel within the United States, except when I’m going to my second favorite city in the U.S., Miami, or even more rarely, L.A. So I was very excited to travel to Palm Springs this spring, especially to see outdoor art spectacle, Desert X. My friend, Katya and I cruised around to a variety of larger than life artworks which sprung out of the rugged landscape. I stayed at The Rowan, a chic and colorful property with the ideal rooftop pool and bar to enjoy the sun after a cold New York winter.

Tip: Eat at Rooster and the Pig, a delicious Vietnamese restaurant with outdoor seating. Their green papaya beef jerky salad is particularly amazing.

Galapagos Sealion

3. Galapagos
As an animal lover, I could barely contain my excitement when I was invited to visit the Galapagos Islands. I got to walk alongside dozens of sea lions, hung out with giant tortoises and went on the best snorkeling trip of my life, seeing multiple white tip sharks and stingrays. I was one of the first guests on the Celebrity Flora, a new, eco-friendly cruise ship that allows 100 guests total on board, a far cry from the thousands of people that usually stay on the giant cruise liners we all know. This boat brought us to all of the best destinations in the Galapagos Islands and also taught guests good habits, like not using plastic bottles or cups, instead opting for a refillable bottle.

Tip: Bring strong sunscreen, you’re in Ecuador a.k.a. the actual equator so the sun is strong even on cloudy days. To protect the reef bring benzone-free products.

4. Cartagena
I already knew I would like Cartagena before I even got there — it’s colorful, diverse, with great food, and beautiful architecture. I stayed at the gorgeous Casa de Alba, a private nobility home turned hotel. You can rent this place out entirely or stay in one of their sumptuous suites like I did. This city is perfect to walk around and take in the colorful streets. Stock up on beachwear at Kia San Lorenzo which makes the most perfect day-to-night colorful dresses.

Tip: Not an authentic Colombian dish but one that came recommended to me from a friend that knows Cartagena well — try the crab nachos at Harry’s Bar at the Hotel Charleston Santa Theresa. They are the richest, most indulgent nachos you will ever taste.

Bear Finnish Lapland

5. Finnish Lapland
As a die-hard hot weather traveler, going to Finnish Lapland was not a trip I foresaw but one I really loved. (I will also add that I went there in early September so it wasn’t that cold.) The landscape is stunning; forest as far as the eye can see and beautiful rivers and lakes. I had a chance to sleep in a glass-roof room at Iisaaki Village which was incredible and also enjoyed some one of a kind local activities. I floated down a river in a wetsuit, went bear watching, visited a reindeer farm and had a chance to witness the Northern Lights. And all those activities barely scratched the surface of everything you could do in the region I visited, Ruka-Kuusamo.

Tip: This one is weird but I had really great pizza in Lapland! Like “wow I can’t believe I ate a whole large pizza by myself”- good pizza. Speaking to locals the cheese in Ruka-Kuusamo is exceptional which might explain why the pizza at Pizzeria Ruka was so good.

6. Santorini
Santorini of the most sought-out destinations in the world but 2019 was my first time visiting this famous Greek island. I wrote about one of the island’s newest hotels, Andronis Arcadia, which is spectacular and unique for a variety of reasons. For one, it has the biggest outdoor pool on the island and the largest hotel villa with six bedrooms, a mini spa, and a private kitchen. Since it’s not located right in the middle uber-popular town of Oia, the property has a more sprawling, airy feel combined with earth-tone interior design. With an incredible spa and delicious restaurant Opson, I basically wanted to move into this property.

Tip: Take an afternoon boat trip around the island to see its various beaches (there’s a red and black beach to check out as well as some hot springs) and enjoy a sunset like I did, pictured above.

Marataba Treehouse

7. South Africa
I just visited South Africa for the first time and I already know that I need to go back there in the near future as I only scratched the surface of this vast country. I came here on my honeymoon and had a variety of safari experiences. The first was at Cheetah Plains, a private game reserve in Sabi Sands near the Kruger National Park. This was such an incredibly chic safari lodge with beautiful furniture, artwork, and first-class service. Everything about this place made me feel lucky, from seeing a leopard kill on our very first drive (our guide told us that he’s previously only seen that happen once), to a herd of 27 elephants stopping by for water in front of our pool, to trying some of the finest wines in South Africa. We flew to another destination and property, Marataba, and also had some unreal experiences, like sleeping in a treehouse completely away from civilization or seeing a rare black rhino. With its wildlife and incredible terrain, this country is a must-visit.

Tip: I packed these mosquito patches for the trip (I was very concerned about getting malaria although both camps were in malaria-free areas) which contain Vitamin B1 which, a scent which mosquitoes find disgusting apparently. Some other handy travel items I love listed here.

Floating Breakfast Waldorf Astoria Maldives

8. Maldives
I’ve actually been to the Maldives before once, but this time I got to spend a lot more time as I was there for my honeymoon. The first five nights we spent at St. Regis Maldives Maldives Vommuli were what wonderful — we stayed in a sunset overwater villa from which you could just hop in the turquoise ocean. The property has several unique features — the Whale Bar where there’s a champagne ritual (with a saber) every day, a giant saltwater jacuzzi called the Blue Hole and notably one of the biggest breakfast buffets I’ve ever seen in my life. We’re talking sushi, noodles, and steak here before 11 am.

I also had a chance to visit the new Waldorf Astoria Maldives which just opened in July 2019. This is a property with a lot of wow factor — the rooms are gigantic and there are 11 restaurants on the property. We stayed in a reef villa which gives you an overwater experience while still being on land. You can easily bike around the island and you won’t get bored spending a few days there. I especially loved their Chinese restaurant Li Long and Middle Eastern restaurant Yasmeen which was built to resemble a Syrian rural village complete with authentic artifacts. Also, the spa is built over water so you can look at fish while you’re getting a massage.

Tip: Get a floating breakfast like the one above, for obvious reasons.

Venice After Flood

9. Venice
I went to Venice this year right after the worst flooding in 50 years, so I was a bit nervous about my experience there but it turned out to be great. The flooding had subsided and there was abundant sunshine. I stayed at Sina Centurion Palace which is right on the water and next to the Basilica Santa Maria della Salute and is a super short walk from the Guggenheim, Pinault Museum and just across from the Gritti Palace. I hadn’t been to Venice since I was a teenager and was really astounded by the architecture and history of this place — something I probably didn’t appreciate as much when I was 15.

Tip: Get a guided tour through Venice so a local can tell interesting facts you might not know about the city, and show you corners that tourists don’t normally see.

10. St Barths
St Barths has mythical air about it — a magical place where celebrities from around the world mingle, rosé replaces water and people don’t have a care in the world. That’s how I always envisioned it and, well, it wasn’t that much different. Le Barthélemy was my chic home for a few days and this beachside property has beautiful rooms, excellent food (their lobster salad was incredible) and a spa which features starry night lighting. A boat trip is absolutely necessary to see St Barths, Gourvernors beach is especially beautiful and for dinner check out Bonito, a Latin-French restaurant with tasty ceviches and decadent dishes like beef tenderloin Rossini.

Tip: There’s a cocktail that comes in a glass shaped like a pufferfish at Le Barthélemy, try it. It looks cool and tastes great.

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