By Moo Bishop
When we travel we carry many expectations but the best experiences are the surprises, the parts you had never imagined. At the risk of ruining some of these unknowns let me tell you about our favorites. And don’t worry, there are always more unexpected wonders to be found.
Galapagos: Miracles happen in these islands, like this one: we’re heading back from an amazing snorkeling excursion. Suddenly huge dark shadows begin to move alongside our small boat. We stop, wait. An enormous whale surfaces, swims full circle around the boat then dives again. Now there are 4 of them, a family. Circling, diving, circling, diving. Watching us. The guide, with 20 years of experience in these islands under his belt, is beside himself with excitement. He has never seen this before; it is a family of endangered Fin whales, circling, circling. Some of the snorkelers slipped into the water; on the next pass those whales looked them straight in the eyes.
Peru: This is what we hear over and over: the iconic ruins of Machu Picchu are not the best part of Peru! Be prepared to be wowed by color, culture, food and magical mountain landscapes. My favorite example of Peru’s magic? A guest who called to say she’d had a dream telling her “go back to Peru and finish what you started”. Of course she had never been to Peru before – but still, she said, didn’t it all make sense?? That is what Peru can do to you.
Costa Rica: In the wild jungle of Tortuguero the howler monkeys reign. One day some boys were tired and cranky, maybe even feeling tired of the monkeys. So they began throwing stuff at them. What did those howler monkeys do? Promptly pooped into their little hands and threw it right back at the boys. If that family learned one thing it was ‘don’t mess with the howler monkeys’.
Perhaps a more appetizing delight in Costa Rica is the fruit. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted fruit so delicious, flavors so luscious it might just make you swoon. Watermelon, pineapple, bananas — it’s as if you’ve never even tasted such a thing before. When you go, eat as much of it as you can.
Baja: I hate to ruin the discoveries you’ll make on the cliff walk in Todos Santos — but let’s just say it begins with a scramble up some boulders, winds you through scrubby cactus and desert plants, delivers you through a green forest of trees, and plops you out onto a wide, empty arc of white sand beach. You pass by so many colors, landscapes, and breathtaking views it is difficult to unpack it; just feel the wonder. Remember the desert rule: pause at every shady spot and drink some water!
Panama: We all know about the Panama Canal but did you know that right next door to this modern miracle you will find both exquisite wildlife and indigenous tribes? Reptiles, amphibians, birds, sloths and monkeys all live in the biodiverse nature reserve known as the Panama Canal Watershed. The Embera community lives along the wildlife rich river; they welcome visitors into their villages to learn about their customs and culture. We love their colorful woven baskets and tattoo designs made with tagua nut juice. You definitely should try it; don’t worry, it wears off in a couple of weeks.
Italy: The chain of Aeolian Islands is one Italy’s most unexpected surprises. After the ancient relics of the mainland these peaceful, laid back islands make you feel a bit like you’ve been transported to another planet. It’s all volcanic and other-worldly, with dark lava sand beaches and giant, asteroid-like sulphur rock formations. You can hike to the top of Vulcano for views you’ll never forget, and a night visit to Stromboli may thrill you with its brilliant explosion of lava from the Sciara del Fuoco (Stream of Fire). Perhaps even more surprising? You are likely to see more locals than tourists.
Colombia: The surprise here is that Colombia is not flooded with tourists; it is home to a wealth of vacation opportunities. Did you know even though Colombia covers less than 1% of the world’s land, it is host to 10% of Earth’s plant and animal species? No wonder they are considered some of the happiest people on earth — they have it all! You might also be surprised to learn the importance of the German accordion to traditional Colombian folk music… you’ll just have to hear it for yourself.