Last week, Departful celebrated it’s first year online! In recognition, we’ve been sharing some of the top posts and places that shaped our year in travel. Unfortunately, when you’re always on the move, it can be hard to write about everything. As a result, we thought we’d highlight some our favorite places we’ve visited in the past year that we haven’t covered yet.
Here are 5 places travelers shouldn’t miss, and a bit more about our contributors who traveled to them:
Current Home: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Favorite spot: Axum (Aksum), Ethiopia
This ancient city (56.000 inhabitants) has an enormous historical allure and a lot to offer for travelers looking for anything from interesting culture and history, to stunning landscapes, and even entertainment and buzzing nightlife. Recently, my friend Timon and I spent an incredible 3 days in Axum. Unfortunately, this was not nearly enough time to visit all of the prominent historical sights. Luckily, we did manage to visit the Ancient Stelae and Tombs which used to store the Ark of Covenants, and the Old and New Cathedrals of St Mary of Zion. We also enjoyed an adventurous and scenic cycling trip and the “more than you would expect” bars and clubs of Axum.
One spot in Axum travelers shouldn’t miss
Instead of mentioning one specific place in Axum – which there are many worth visiting – I’d like to recommend an activity that should not be missed. As much as it may not come as a surprise given my Dutch nationality, I would highly recommend anyone that visiting the area rent a bicycle and explore the region around Axum on two-wheels. The landscapes are unique, with colorful rock formations I haven’t experienced anywhere else, and the hilly paved and unpaved roads are dotted with traditional rural communities and traditionally ploughed fields. Make sure to bring enough water and food though, because lack thereof made Timon and I prematurely decide to cycle back to the Africa Hotel in Axum.
Current Home: Brisbane, Australia
Favorite spot: Ton Sai, Thailand
Why Ton Sai?
I liked just about everything, really; from myriad outdoor activities including world-class rock climbing, deep water soloing and kayaking, to freshly grilled seafood on the beach every night (barracuda, anyone?), to an incredibly laid-back, convivial atmosphere. All set within a tropical paradise overlooking stunning limestone karst formations rising out of the Andaman Sea. This is a happy place.
One spot in Ton Sai travelers shouldn’t miss
The cliff faces right on the end of the beach. I wasn’t joking about the rock climbing – the very best from all over the world make their pilgrimage to Ton Sai to tackle some of the most challenging courses to be found anywhere on earth. You could spend an entire day just watching these Spider-men and Spider-women contort their bodies in ways that leave us mere mortals in awe. And after a tough day of watching others work really hard, head to Small World Bar on the dirt track that loops away from the beach for good company. You’re amongst fellow travelers here.
Current Home: Toronto, Canada
Favorite spot: San Sebastian, Spain
Why San Sebastian?
While I had been to Spain on a few occasions in the past, San Sebastian marked my first foray into the northern (and autonomous) Basque region. It was, as a result, entirely different from previous Spanish adventures, with an equally rich though entirely unique history and culture. And then there was the food.
One spot in San Sebastian travelers shouldn’t miss
San Sebastian has a lot to offer visitors: sun & sand, outdoor & adventure activities, and a lively nightlife. My favourite San Sebastian experiences, however, all revolved around food, which is not surprising as the city is the current gastronomic capital not only of the Basque food movement, but some would say, of Europe. With more Michelin stars per square meter than any other city, high-end restaurants specializing in molecular gastronomy such as Arzak and Restaurante Martín Berasategui offer truly unique culinary experiences that in my opinion are well worth the splurge (tasting menus can run upwards of $200 a person). If you’re not ready to shell out that much for one meal, don’t fret. San Sebastian has a low-cost alternative: pinxtos. Pinxtos (phonetically pinch-ohs), are Basque’s answer to tapas: bite-size portions of fresh and deliciously prepared ingredients, often showcased on a small piece of bread. Meandering throughout the old town, which is littered with pinxtos bars, is a cultural experience in and of itself. You can spend hours on your own pinxtos ‘crawl’, making your way through the crowd to the counter, sampling each establishment’s specialty and washing it down with a glass of Txakoli (a light dry white wine) before moving on to the next spot.
Current Home: Waterloo, Canada
Favorite spot: Chicago, USA
The windy city has it all folks – just ask Vince Vaughn. For starters, Chi-town has some of the most storied sports teams in North America: you know, da Bears, da Bulls, da Cubs, and da Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks. No matter what time of year you find yourself in the city there will be a game to catch. Wrigley Field alone is worth the trip; it is the only major league diamond that still doesn’t have jumbotrons. Sports aside, Chicago has a rich history that makes a walking tour surprisingly intriguing. Make sure to take the time to learn about the Great Chicago Fire, North America’s first skyscraper, and of course, Chicago’s famous mobster past.
One spot in Chicago travelers shouldn’t miss
Visiting the House of Blues is a must for anyone who enjoys music (blues or otherwise), and Chi-town’s nightlife and restaurant scene well, forget about it. Da best. For drinks, make sure to check out The Aviary. Grant Achatz is one of the biggest rock stars of the culinary world and a leading innovator in molecular gastronomy. The Aviary is his venture into the cocktail world, so the drinks are outlandish and cutting edge, but also delicious. Check it out. I mean a classic Rob Roy served INSIDE an ice sphere that you get to break with a mini slingshot?! Get out! How fun! You need to go there.
Current Home: Toronto, Canada
Nationality: Canadian / Dutch
Favorite spot: Highway 93 North, Canada
Sometimes the journey is better than the destination. Over the past few years, I’ve spent time visiting some incredible places across Africa and Europe often at the expense of taking the time to see some of my own country (which can often be just as far away). This year, I finally took some time to road trip around Canada and one thing has become quite clear: even my favorite Canadian towns and cities pale in comparison to the incredible and overwhelming nature that surrounds them. Nowhere is this more true than along Alberta’s Highway 93 North, otherwise known as the Icefields Parkway.
The Icefields Parkway, which runs north from the Trans-Canada Highway near Banff and brings drivers through both Banff and Jasper National Park, takes travelers through some of the most impressive natural landscape North America has to offer. While a stop in Banff and Jasper are a must, offering any visitor a great, albeit ‘touristy’, entry to Canadian nature, the drive between them is where you’re trip really takes off.
One spot along the Icefields Parkway travelers shouldn’t miss
I love to hike, so for me, this is one of the best things you could do in Banff or Jasper National Park. If you’re looking for a breathtakingly scenic and moderately challenging hike, check out Parker Ridge Trail in Northern Banff (clearly marked on the highway). The trek takes about 2 hours with an elevation gain of about 250 meters and is made up of only impressive views. If you’re looking for more of a casual stroll, there are also plenty of short routes available right off the highway with incredible mountain, glacier, canyon, and waterfall views that won’t disappoint.
Other activities to check out along the drive include a stop at Moraine Lake in Banff National Park, which is a short drive from the infinitely more busy Lake Louise. You should also make sure to pay a visit to the Columbia Icefields and the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper. The guided tour up and onto the Athabasca Glacier can be purchased for around $50.00 at the Columbia Icefield Visitor Centre. This includes a drive up the mountain and onto the glacier on what is probably the most badass bus you’ll ever see: The Brewster Ice Explorer. For the more active or budget-oriented traveler, there are also incredible trails around the Athabasca Glacier you are free to roam on. Just be careful to avoid walking onto the glacier itself as several tourists have died as a result of falling into hidden crevices on the ice. Great way to finish off this recommendation, eh?