Thursday, July 28th, 2016

My Favorite New Travel Destinations of 2015

54

Kate in Aci Trezza

Every year, I love to look back at my travels and choose my favorite new destinations of the year.

In 2014, some of my favorite new destinations were Finland, Sri Lanka, and Savannah, Georgia.

In 2013, some of my favorite new destinations were Japan, Macedonia, and Berlin.

In 2012, some of my favorite new destinations were the Faroe Islands, South Africa, and Costa Brava, Spain.

Some years, I just did a big list. Sometimes, I listed my top three along with the others. I think it’s best to think about the year and do what feels right. So this year, in 2015, I’ll be highlighting my favorite new destination of the year and listing the rest.

Leon Nicaragua

My Favorite New Destination of the Year: Nicaragua

When thinking about my favorite new destinations from this year, you know what comes to mind? Little Corn Island. San Juan del Sur. Ometepe. And, to a lesser degree, Laguna de Apoyo and León.

Loving each of those places so much, how could Nicaragua not be my favorite new destination of the year? And when you consider their diversity, from funky beach towns to undeveloped islands and colorful, chaotic cities, it’s all the more remarkable.

Yemaya Little Corn IslandGranada NicaraguaLaguna de ApoyoOmetepe RoadLeon NicaraguaYemaya Little Corn IslandLeon CathedralLittle Corn IslandView over San Juan del SurSan Juan del SurFinal Ometepe Sunset

I adore Nicaragua. It’s a colorful country filled with kind and welcoming people. I’d go so far as to consider it the most naturally beautiful country in Central America. The food is pretty basic, but there’s something rhapsodic about a perfectly roasted chicken eaten on a plastic stool on the street. And with everything being so cheap, it’s a very affordable trip, especially from the United States.

I do worry for Nicaragua, though. Little Corn Island is in its sweet spot right now, being nice and quiet but just starting to pick up, and I dread the thought of it becoming destroyed in the name of tourism like Koh Phi Phi. At the same time, the Chinese are planning to build a canal through Nicaragua and its eponymous lake, and I shudder at the thought of what that’s going to do to Ometepe and the gorgeous coastline near San Juan del Sur.

Put Nicaragua on your “go now” list for 2016. I’m serious. It might not be this way for long.

Favorite Nicaragua Experiences: Watching the sunset from Hacienda Merida in Ometepe, discovering hidden beaches and wacky island people on Little Corn Island, spending a day at Laguna de Apoyo, the catamaran day trip from San Juan del Sur, rocking the Sunday Funday party in San Juan del Sur, enjoying incredible views from the top of León Cathedral.

Copenhagen from Church of Our Savior

Copenhagen

A bright and colorful city filled with people wearing only black and gray. Everyone is on a bicycle. It’s cool and organized and even the rougher areas are nicer than anything you’ve seen in the US. People give zero fucks in the best way possible.

Looking back, Copenhagen didn’t have any one moment that made me fall in love with it — it was more of a mosaic-like destination, where I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed it until I had been there for a few days. The kind of place where you’re so happy each minute, you suddenly think to yourself, “You know? This place is great.” I often feel that way in Nordic cities.

Sankt Hans Nyhavn CopenhagenCopenhagenCopenhagen

Favorite Copenhagen Experiences: Eating one of the best meals of my life at Höst, celebrating Sankt Hans with bonfires, wandering the open-air museum and deer park, climbing to the spiraled top of the Church of Our Savior, exploring the separatist zone of Christiania, having a party night for the ages starting with street food at Papirøen.

Saranda, Albania

Albania

A country just waking up to mass tourism, Albania is one of the few places in Europe that you can visit as a tourist and feel like you’re on another planet. Futuristic bunkers dot the countryside and buses leave from random street corners instead of stations, even in the capital. Yet the area around Saranda is home to some of the best beaches in Europe and Tirana is fun and funky and even chic.

Albania is the least-developed country I’ve visited in Europe, and poverty here is visible in a way more like Southeast Asia than what you would expect in Europe. That said, the people are very welcoming (if in disbelief that you’re visiting as a tourist) and the country is fascinating.

Tirana AlbaniaKsamil AlbaniaBerat Albania

Favorite Albania Experiences: Exploring the beaches of Ksamil, chilling out in relaxing Saranda, wandering and photographing Berat’s city of a thousand windows, climbing Tirana’s bizarre and broken-down pyramid, having prosecco on top of the tallest building in Tirana at sunset.

El Tunco, El Salvador

El Tunco, El Salvador

Who knew I’d fall in love with a two-street town in El Salvador? The surfing may be for more experienced surfers, and the size of the town may be too much for urbanites, but I found it to be a marvelous escape. My best days in El Tunco followed a solid schedule of enjoying the beach, eating fabulous food, watching the sunset, and heading out to the nightly party spot.

El Tunco, El SalvadorEl Tunco, El SalvadorMonkey La La El Tunco, El Salvador

Favorite El Tunco Experiences: Watching the sunset every night at Monkey La La, enjoying free drinks at every Ladies’ Night event, eating pupusas on a daily basis, spending afternoons in the pool at Papaya Lodge, loving how the town’s feel changes with the influx of visitors from San Salvador on the weekends, swimming through the wild surf.

Sunset in Santorini

Santorini

Finally, at long last, I made my way to the most romantic of Greek isles. Santorini needs no introduction — it’s the kind of place that dominates fantasies. Those perfectly white towns set against the bright blue Aegean Sea. Some of the best sunsets on the planet.

It’s not perfect, by any stretch. It was on the pricey side. As a solo traveler, I felt a bit out of place in couple-dominated Oia. And I happened to be there during the height of the Greek financial crisis, causing panic to many visitors to Greece (though ATMS were stocked and business went on as usual in Santorini). But visiting Santorini was fulfilling a dream.

Santorini Sunset WindmillSantoriniSunset in Santorini

Favorite Santorini Experiences: Watching the sunset in Oia and photographing it from every angle, enjoying a swim and a sunset at Lioyerma bar, eating Greek salads at least once per day.

Chicago Bean Cloud Gate

Chicago

How is it possible that I didn’t make it to Chicago until 2015? Let’s not talk about that. But this great American city was well worth the wait. It was a big city, yet felt far more low-key than East Coast metropolises. The architecture was endlessly interesting. I also got to see a lot of the city spirit when the Blackhawks won the championship and everyone was decked out in gear!

My main reason to go to Chicago was to dive into the food scene, and I probably had the best five-day eating stretch of my life, getting into traditional Chicago deep dish and hot dogs as well as some new high-end spots. Honestly, as far as food goes, you will eat amazingly in Chicago!

Chicago's Hour cocktail at Longman & EagleChicago BrownstonesPequod's Pizza

Favorite Chicago Experiences: Taking a pizza tour, going on an architecture cruise, hanging out in Wicker Park, eating at Longman & Eagle (my favorite restaurant of all I saw in Chicago), having a terrific reader meetup at Hopleaf.

Kate in Caye Caulker

Belize

I actually didn’t have the highest hopes for Belize — it didn’t seem like a very “me” destination — but soon I realized how wrong I was! Belize was a fucking blast. Home to the most perfect turquoise water I’ve ever seen, superb snorkeling, and friendly, laid-back people, I quickly fell into the languid Belizean lifestyle.

Belize SunriseTobacco Caye, BelizeRendezvous Caye Belize

Best Belize experiences: The three-day sailing trip from Caye Caulker to Placencia with Raggamuffin Tours, snorkeling the Belize Barrier reef with sharks and rays, exploring the skeleton-filled ATM caves in San Ignacio, chilling out on the Split in Caye Caulker.

Cotswolds Distillery

Cotswolds, England

Despite living in England for a few years, I never made it to the Cotswolds. But even with a brief, less-than-24-hour visit, my interest was whet enough to know that I must return and do it right. I was spellbound while driving through the countryside and enjoying every lazy moment spent in quiet Moreton-on-Marsh.

Afternoon Tea Cotswolds Moreton-in-Marsh, Cotswolds Cotswolds Distillery

Best Cotswolds Experiences: Visiting Cotswolds Distillery and exploring Moreton-on-Marsh, including a quick afternoon tea stop at The Marshmallow.

Riga Latvia

Riga, Latvia

I had heard positive things about Riga, but was delighted by just how much I enjoyed it! I found Riga to be a perfect city to visit for a few days — small, beautiful, and packed with interesting things to do and surprisingly good food and nightlife. Many good things wrapped up in a tidy Baltic package.

Riga ParkRiga CherriesRiga Cafe Flowers

Best Riga Experiences: Taking the free Riga alternative tour (don’t forget to tip!), going to the movies (with lambrusco on tap and an entire fridge of “bacon snacks”), enjoying live music in the basement at Folkklubs, strolling through the parks, trying lots of cocktails with Black Balsam.

Santa Cruz Atitlan Guatemala

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

There is something very powerful about Lake Atitlan — something that has made it a destination for everyone from the Mayans to 21st century spirituality seekers. On top of that, the lake is stunningly beautiful and is covered with many different villages, one for every taste!

A lot of people talk about the Mayans like they disappeared — which isn’t true at all. They live here today and are among the kindest people that I had the pleasure of meeting in Central America.

San Pedro Atitlan GuatemalaLake Atitlan GuatemalaSan Marcos Atitlan Guatemala

Best Lake Atitlan Experiences: Enjoying small-town life in Jaibalito, relaxing in the pool at Club Ven Aca in Jaibalito, enjoying the scenery and spirituality in San Marcos, shopping and cafe-hopping in Panajachel, partying at Sublime and eating everything in sight in San Pedro.

Kate in Siracusa

Siracusa, Sicily

I wrestled with whether to put Sicily on this list or just Siracusa. I loved Sicily, I really did, but it was so difficult at times that I have a hard time naming it as one of my absolute favorites alongside everything else here.

There was one destination in Sicily, however, that was pure love. That was Siracusa. Its decaying beauty, its ancient ruins, its faded colors, plus the fact that the symbol of the town is a saint with a dagger through her neck. It was the absolute best of Sicily.

SiracusaMussels in SiracusaSiracusa

Best Siracusa Experiences: Exploring Ortigia and taking photos during sunset, dining on fennel and orange salad, wandering around and enjoying the colors just after a big afternoon storm.

What were your favorite new destinations from 2015?

Comments

54 Responses to “My Favorite New Travel Destinations of 2015”
  1. What a treat to not only see my hometown (and hands-down favorite city) on your list, as well as my last trip – Siracusa – and upcoming destination, Copenhagen. Feeling fortunate to have been to so many cool, fun and beautiful places this year, and my own list would include New Orleans!

  2. Lotte says:

    Thanks for this great list and beautiful pictures Kate! I haven’t been to any of these places but Japan and Finland are on the list for 2016:-)

  3. Anna says:

    I fell in love with Bavarian Alps at first sight – and totally unexpectedly. I’m now planning to check out the region from the Austrian side – something that wasnt even in my top-25 destinations to go to next! I also visited London for the 4th time, and I am surprised just how much more “into” the city I get with every visit, because every time I discover something new – neighborhood, park, pub.

  4. We’re going to Albania in ’16, can’t wait!

  5. Melissa says:

    I went around the Cotswolds for about 4 days. By the end of it all the little villages started to look exactly the same. I’d go back to do more of the walks though.

  6. Gedas says:

    Great list with some less known places for average traveller. To see Albania on the list was surprising. I didn’t know any traveller who has been there.

  7. Kate says:

    Although I was only in Nicaragua for a day, I completely fell in love with it! I can’t wait to have the chance to explore the country again – and further!

  8. Caroline says:

    What a wonderful round-up…I’m a longtime reader and have enjoyed your posts from all these places, and it was nice to see them all in one place! It’s also really fun to read such a diverse list that isn’t southeast asia focused. Nothing against southeast asia, I’ve just read too many posts about it lately. I love to read your blog because you have such a diversity of places on it!

  9. Zascha says:

    I’m so incredibly glad to see that you put Copenhagen on your list. Since I was born there it does have a special place in my heart and I love it when other travellers go there and enjoy the city! 🙂

  10. scar says:

    Great list! Nicaragua is now on my to-do list for sure!

    I had one favourite new destination this year that topped them all, and that was South Carolina. It was my first USA experience, and I loved it. The natural beauty, the miles of beaches, the wide roads, the seafood, the sunshine…

    I also loved Malaga. Especially the sunrises and sunsets over the mountains, and the wild horses that grazed around the university I was working in. Bliss.

  11. Izy Berry says:

    So cool you visit the best places this year !! Santorini and lake atitlan they are beautiful

  12. Tarah says:

    Glad to see Nicaragua is on here, as we are heading there in January! Cant wait to experience it! Will need to check out these other places as well!

  13. We were really impressed by Finland and we found Swaziland a very beautiful country! and next year, we will definitely visit Santorini and the Faroe Islands! Btw. I really like the quality of your pics! They look fantastic.. Can’t wait!

  14. Mary B says:

    Southern Utah was absolutely spectacularly beautiful, and way more diverse than I expected. I loved almost all of Georgia (the country) – but in particular the mountain villages of Ushguli and Kazbegi took my breath away, and the capital, Tbilisi charmed me. Iran was a total unknown and meeting so many friendly Iranians on the street was one of the big highlights of my trip.

  15. Jade says:

    I love how varied this list is! Seriously hyped up my wanderlust.
    My new favourites include India, Ghana, Istanbul and Bavaria.

  16. 30s Gal says:

    Mine were Barcelona (Spain), Sighisoara (Romania) and Athens (Greece)! Looking forward to Siracusa in 2016 though! I read through your Sicily posts and they were very helpful! Thank you, Kate!

  17. Erin says:

    Kate,

    I haven’t been to most of these locations but I love reading about them. I have been to Copenhagen and fell in love with it like you did, slowly and happily. Nicaragua is on my 2016 list now. And Sicily might get pushed back another year or two. Hadn’t thought much about visiting Latvia, but I’m intrigued by Riga.

    Thanks for sharing your favorite places!

    Erin

  18. Michelle says:

    The only placeI’ve been to on this list is Chicago. Would love to visit the others one day! Beautiful pictures.

  19. That’s a lot of favourites! It seems like you had an awesome year of travelling! To my surprise I haven’t visited any of the places you highlighted! I’m planning on going to Belize in February this year, so I’ll be exploring at least one of your favourites in 2016! 🙂

  20. Jenia says:

    We LOVED Albania — we’ve had all of those special experiences there that you’ve mentioned, but one of the things that really struck me was how undervisited the country is. It is pristine and hopefully will stay that way until it is ready to cope with massive influx of tourists which is sure to come.

  21. Daniel says:

    There are 3 types of destinations, those I’ve been to, those I haven’t, and those I’ve been to, but I want to go again. Sicily and Santorini are definitely the 3rd type…

    Great post with great destinations.

  22. Jill says:

    Japan – Kamakura was my favorite spot, Belize, Honduras, Zion National Park and Lake Powell. A great travel year!

  23. Brooklyn says:

    You’re Chicago trip just sounded like the most amazing foodie experience! And now I really want to go to Chicago and try all of those places you visited!

    http://www.justbeingbrooklyn.com

  24. Great list, Kate… I also loved Riga. Can’t wait to see where you’re headed in 2016!

  25. I looooove your list Kate as it’s such a variety in just as many continents lol! My fave places this year were Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Osnabrück (‘cos it’s the happiest place in Germany lol), Bristol and of course, exactly where I am – the city of cities – my darling Berlin!

  26. I love how you loved Albania and the Cotswolds! I love both of them too. <3 Just drooling at the pictures of the scones, jam and clotted cream right now….

    I loved almost every destionation I went to this year. Japan was such a highlight, and so was Sri Lanka and Indonesia too. Not to mention Australia that I had been dreaming about for so long. I also loved Kosovo and Serbia! But I guess the two countries that really took my breath away was Georgia and Armenia. Just, wow! Horseback riding in Svaneti was such a dream. I really want to go back.

    In 2016 I'm dreaming about Central America (so good to hear how you loved Nicaragua, Belize and Guatemala!), and Central Asia.

  27. Our Wanders says:

    What a great list! Your pictures of Nicaragua really show the colorful beauty of this country – hope to get there some day though not sure how to squeeze it in in 2016. 😀

    We’ve mostly travelled in the US this year and almost all of our destinations were new for us. The most memorables are: Kauai, Glacier National Park, Crater Lake, Zion National Park, Antelope Canyon, Miami, Redwood National and State Parks and a lot of other bigger or smaller parks in California.

  28. Brenna says:

    I love this list, Kate! I totally agree with you about Nicaragua; I’ve been twice and am hoping to go back again soon. I also agree about Copenhagen, it’s such a fantastic city.

    Also… your photos… damn!! You’re such a great photographer, I was so blown away by all of the shots in this post.

  29. Reddited. Awesome post Kate. Your pictures on your new camera look sick. I typically do videos. Have you thought about doing any short clips or maybe a series of vines? I’d be really into that.

    Stay Frosty,
    Adventure Spencer http://adventurespencer.com

  30. Definitely a few places on this list to add onto the bucket list!!

    https://wanderlustpulse.wordpress.com

  31. Amazing photos! Makes me want to visit all of these places. My favourite travel destinations of 2015 were the Whitsunday Islands and New Zealand!

  32. Love the list! Thanks to you Albania is now on my list of places to visit in Europe. My favourite destination this year was Prague, although I’m heading to Rome next month so it might change!

  33. Fernando says:

    Great list.

    Belize looks stunning, and so does Nicaragua.
    Any country with gorgeous beaches AND volcanoes goes straight to my list of places to visit. Besides, who wouldn’t want to eat some fish tacos at at place called “Bad Ass Eats” ?

  34. Katherine says:

    I can’t wait to visit all these places! I love to travel, if you haven’t already, you should check out Busan, South Korea. It’s an amazing city right on the sea. It’s full of beautiful little restaurants and historic temples. Korea is simply amazing!
    Thanks for the travel advice,
    Katherine

  35. Brandy says:

    Great list – definitely made me reflect on places I loved in 2015, and all the places I need to go in 2016! I really need to make it to Central America – it’s so close, and so cheap, yet I’m always seemingly drawn to places that are farther away. I also need to plan a return trip to Chicago for the summer. I’ve been once, on a work trip, but it was at the end of October, and I had a cold.

    This year, my favorite destinations were Barbados (had never been to the Caribbean, and loved it) and Venice. I had really low expectations for Venice, since people complain about the crowds and the smell and it feeling too “Disneyland” but I loved it.

  36. John says:

    My favourite destination this year was definitely Transylvania. I immediately felt at home there exploring the old Germanic towns and getting out to a few castles. Return trip to Romania is already booked!

  37. So many of these seem so great! I really want to get to Copenhagen and see all these sophisticated people in this beautiful city!!

    Thanks for giving us more ideas for our list 🙂

  38. Andrew says:

    so many amazing places! Thanks for sharing!

  39. Nicaragua looks amazing. I’ve not yet visited central or South America – hopefully 2016 will be the year 😉

  40. Fantastic list! I love the diversity of it and the focus on Central America. Hoping to finally make it to South America this year! My favorite destination this year was most definitely South Africa and especially Cape Town!

  41. jay says:

    So many of these seem so great! I really want to get to Copenhagen and see all these sophisticated people in this beautiful city!!

    Thanks for giving us more ideas for our list 🙂

  42. Grainne says:

    What an amazing year for you!!! I’m dying to travel through Central America, here’s hoping it’ll happen in the next few years.

  43. Stephanie says:

    Transylvania has been on my list since I was 12 years old and read Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the first time – and I’m 55 lol. Never seem to get there in my travels. After reading one of your reader’s comments I’ve put it on the list for 2016.

  44. Campbell says:

    Hi Kate, thanks for your post on how to start a travelblog, after almost 4 years traveling our blog is finally up and running stingynomads.com I traveled around Latin America this year and liked Nicaragua, we spent 10 awesome days on Little Corn, getting there was a mission, but worth it! It is popular to say ‘Nicaragua now is like Costa Rica 20 years ago’, the same natural attributes as yet undiscovered and not so commercial. I thought this is nonsense, I liked Nicaragua, but my experience was that Nicaragua is a watered down mix of what I liked in Costa Rica and Guatemala. Nice nature but not as impressive as in Costa Rica and interesting culture, but not as rich and different as in Guatemala. On the financial side it was definitely cheaper than Costa Rica and more expensive than Guatemala, but by being more frugal when called for, we travelled in all three countries on exactly the same budget of $20 per day per person.
    Enjoy the festive season, safe travels
    Campbell
    stingynomads.com

  45. Amy says:

    I saw you at the airport in Santorini and recognized you from your blog! Too shy to say anything though. I love traveling as well. You were on my flight out and thought it was neat after reading some of your travels around the world that I had actually crossed paths with you. I guess its a small world after all. 🙂

  46. Great list! So awesome places. You have been travelling in very different places this year.

  47. What an amazing year for you!!! I’m dying to travel through Central America

  48. Nora says:

    Greek isles, I loved.

  49. I recently travelled to the Cook Islands and it was by far my favourite new destination of 2015. The islands are so unspoilt and underrated, now is the perfect time to visit. The beaches are virtually empty, and the snorkeling is out of this world!

  50. Nevin John says:

    Thanks for the article its contain lots of attractive information and Photos are Amazing. try to come to Kerala, India. You’ll definitely love this place. I’m sure

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