Top 10 destinations lists — recommended vs. favorite

This item appears on page 37 of the October 2017 issue.

An article by Contributing Editor Randy Keck, “Building Your Travel Bucket List” (Jan. ’17, pg. 56), generated the following project. We asked ITN subscribers (March ’17, pg. 15) to each send in two lists of international destinations, excluding locations in Europe (which are so popular among travelers) and in the United States (which ITN does not cover).

One list was to include the Top 10 destinations that they had visited and would recommend for newer/beginning international travelers. On the second, they were to list their own Top 10 favorite travel destinations, based on their actual experiences. We requested an explanation or comment with each choice.

We are presenting this month a few of the lists received — two from each person — and will have more in months to come.

Members of our birding group being observed by Bhutanese schoolchildren. Photo by Linda Beuret

From Sheryl Pate of Fort Myers, FL: I suggest tackling the countries on the following list in the order shown.

Best for Beginning Travelers

1. Jamaica — Visit on a Caribbean cruise that includes Ocho Rios and Dunn River Falls. Unpack just once, and have the comfort of an English-speaking crew taking care of you. Jamaica’s culture and friendly people should encourage further travel.

2. Panama Canal — The original canal is an engineering marvel that can be enjoyed on a variety of ships. The beginning traveler can leave one US port and arrive at another without too many challenges to her comfort zone.

3. Costa Rica — This takes the beginning traveler farther from home to interact with a different culture in a very beautiful location. It’s easy to find people who speak English, and there are multiple choices of activities and tours. Rainforests, beaches and ecotourism.

4. New Zealand — A long flight away but a similar, English-speaking culture to that of the US. You can book organized tours or do it on your own. Beautiful scenery. 

5. Australia — My comments for Australia are similar to those on New Zealand. Friendly people. (Americans welcome!)

6. Peru — Isn’t Machu Picchu on everyone’s bucket list? At this point, the beginning traveler is feeling more secure after earlier trips, and she welcomes the opportunity to explore something a bit more challenging. Should be done while in good health and able to hike. 

7. China — The Great Wall, the Terracotta Army of Xi’an and the neon of Shanghai. By now, the beginning traveler is embracing the differences of culture and history.

8. Thailand — Friendly people, ancient ruins and wonderful cuisine. Asia is a welcoming call for more exploration.

9. Cambodia — Angkor Wat is not to be missed, either as an extension or a primary destination. 

10. Southern AfricaBotswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe are destinations not even on the horizon prior to becoming a world traveler, but by this point each beckons as a “must do” on that ever-expanding bucket list.

The destinations in this next list all expanded my horizons, challenged my comfort zones and touched my soul in very intense ways. I grew as a person and came home with new perspectives and a desire to embrace the wonderful diversity of this world. Though they are numbered, I could not rank them in order of importance, as each contains its own special place in my personal development.

Personal Favorites

1. Southern Africa — Africa has a way of seeping into your soul, urging a return visit. The amazing animals, the friendly guides, the awe of encountering a world so very different from home…. It’s one of the trips I will repeat.

2. India — Embrace the difference or don’t go! India is color and light and sounds and smells and the sometimes-deafening pulse of life. It is a land of extremes — beauty side by side with dirty slums and tremendous poverty. The traditional greeting, “Namaste”  (“I bow to [the divine in] you”), speaks of the gentle nature of the people. Dig a little deeper and you will also find the cruelty and inhumanity that comes with the desperate struggle to survive. India, too, calls out for a return visit.

3. Thailand — My favorite memories are of the friendly, smiling people. I enjoyed the culture, the food, the architecture…. It was my introduction to Asia and remains a favorite.

4. Cambodia — Angkor Wat is not to be missed. The ruins are spectacular. The Khmer Rouge Killing Fields are heartbreaking as a testament to yet another genocide. Try combining Cambodia with a trip to Thailand. 

5. Peru — Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley are “bucket list” destinations. The people and culture of Peru added to the wonderful experience.

6. Bhutan — An ancient culture that values Gross National Happiness more than Gross National Product. The country is striving to preserve its culture and heritage. Visiting Tiger’s Nest monastery is another “bucket list” accomplishment.

7. Sri Lanka — From an amazing elephant sanctuary to temples to cave-dwelling Buddhas, this was an excellent destination. (Beware the chilies; hot does not begin to describe them!)

8. Myanmar — From the gilded Shwedagon Pagoda to the 2,200 temples of Bagan, this is an astonishing place. (In an isolated village, I was asked what I ate to keep my skin so white!) Inle Lake, with its leg-rowing fishermen, is another of the sights that must be included in a visit.

9. China — Most “world travelers” will have checked off the Great Wall, the Yangtze River, Xi’an, Guilin, Shanghai, Hong Kong, etc. — all definitely worth the time and effort.

10. Egypt — Luxor, Karnak, the pyramids, the Nile…. I enjoyed them before the “Arab Spring.” 


Sugarloaf Mountain as seen from atop Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Linda Beuret

From Linda & Peter Beuret of Santa Barbara, CA: In each of the following lists, number 1 is tops.

Best for Beginning Travelers

1. Galápagos Islands — All visitors are accompanied by a national park guide, who tells you history, points out the Darwin finches and leads you through a wonderful landscape.   

2. Oaxaca, Mexico — Day of the Dead week at the end of October is a fiesta of flowers, food and sights.

3. Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada — The “English” taste of Victoria. The wildness of nature on the rest of the island.

4. Costa Rica — A country with many different types of areas — mountains, forest and both Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Great nature and wildlife. 

5. Montréal, Canada — A taste of a really “foreign” city but close enough to easily reach.

6. Trinidad & Tobago — For birders, and for beach and nature lovers, there’s the Asa Wright Nature Center. For a taste of Carnival, music is always in the air.

7. Sydney, Australia — One of the Earth’s most beautiful cities, with wonderful museums, a zoo and ferries plus people who more or less speak English.

8. Fiji — West Coasters can hop on a plane at 10 p.m. and get off when the sun comes up at 7 a.m. in a wonderland of friendly people, beautiful beaches and snorkeling.

9. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — For its setting, one of the most beautiful cities of the world. Beaches, a happy musical people and interesting foods (visit a churrascaria) and culture. A different lifestyle.

10. Buenos Aires, Argentina — For tango, the nightlife and a “must” trip to see Iguazú Falls on the border with Brazil. Great steakhouses!

Personal Favorites

1. Bhutan — The country with “happiness” as a goal. Stunning mountains and valleys. An undisturbed countryside. Architecturally beautiful Buddhist monasteries. Everyone wearing national dress. And many speak English!

2. Raja Ampat, Indonesia — The purest, clearest, most beautiful diving and snorkeling in the world. Warm waters and untouched reefs teeming with coral and tropical fish.

3. Antarctica — Not just one type of white but a thousand variations. Scenery and shapes of ice not seen anywhere else on Earth. South Georgia Island, where you can visit Ernest Shackleton’s grave, is perhaps even more spectacular and memorable.

4. Vietnam — The best food in Asia (plus cooking classes). Interesting culture. A very young population who has no interest in the past or the American War but who looks to the future and works hard to achieve it. Also, beautiful Ha Long Bay. 

5. Bangkok, Thailand — Teeming with life. Temples. Markets. Museums of golden statues. Riverboats. Parks. Fabulous food. Massages. Plus the Mandarin Oriental hotel, our favorite in the world (where we want to live the rest of our lives).

6. Egypt — Study the civilization first so that when you get there, it all is believable. You can see back centuries. The museums and ancient sites are breathtaking.

7. Margaret River, Australia — In the Stirling Range of Western Australia. The country’s wildflower capital. A botanical wonderland. Lovely nature. Great bird-watching. Premium wine from lovely wineries. Wonderful, friendly people.

8. The Amazon, Brazil — A boat trip from Manaus, with its markets and great nature, down to Belém at the river’s mouth, with more markets, botanical gardens and a zoo. A wonder of this world, whether done on a cruise ship or a riverboat.

9. Rajasthan, India — Take the “Palace on Wheels” train or visit Jaipur and Udaipur. Your senses will be overwhelmed. (Also in India — the Taj Mahal, better than you imagined it, and Delhi.)

10. Botswana — A peaceful, friendly country full of magnificent game parks and wonderful birds. Lodges where you can sit on a porch and be awed by nature. (Not far away, between Zambia and Zimbabwe, is Victoria Falls.)


Children in Fiji. Photo by Linda Beuret

From Rosemary McDaniel of Trenton, FL: On the following lists, the first countries are the most highly rated. 

Best for Beginning Travelers

1. Québec, Canada — For a taste of France.

2. Nova Scotia, Canada — For a taste of Scotland.

3. British Columbia, Canada — For its natural beauty.

4. Ontario, Canada — For its British influence.

5. Costa Rica — For its varied topography and wildlife.

6. New Zealand — For more sheep than people, but wonderful people.

7. Australia — For its fun people and challenging English dialect.

8. Singapore — Small, orderly and exceptionally clean.

9. Thailand — For its lovely people, temples and colors.

10. Malaysia — For its national parks. Including Borneo.

Personal Favorites

1. New Zealand — For its natural beauty, wonderful hiking opportunities and reasonable prices.

2. Australia — For the friends I’ve made and endless opportunities for adventures.

3. Bhutan — For its exotic culture and colors along with its lovely, friendly people.

4. Thailand — For its temples, wildlife and interesting culture.

5. Malaysia — For its national parks and varied wildlife. 

6. China — A diverse country that our group explored by planes, trains, automobiles and bicycles.

7. Turkey — For its wonderful people and interesting landscapes.

8. Indonesia — I visited a variety of unique islands by schooner.

9. Mexico — For its butterfly sanctuaries.

10. India — For its crazy traffic.

Countries I would not return to these days due to political upheaval and corruption are Turkey, Mexico and India.


Linda and Peter Beuret on South Georgia Island with king penguins

From Ed Lifset of Oceanside, CA: These rankings start with 1, 2 and 3 as the best.

Best for Beginning Travelers

1. Japan — Much to see; many points of interest. Clean. Good internal transportation, excellent hotels and fine foods.

2. China — Many interesting cities, many cultures and friendly people. Excellent accommodations. You will need several trips to see it all.

3. Peru — Lima and Machu Picchu are “must sees.” Great trekking and river exploring. Not expensive, and it’s not a long international trip.

4. Israel — Home of three great religions; so many biblical sites. English spoken all over. Great food, great hotels and outstanding local tours and guides.

5. India — Fascinating culture and architecture, English spoken all over, plus excellent internal transportation, great food and great hotels.

6. Vietnam — Site of a long war. Unique culture. Great hotels, food and internal transportation. Fine shopping. English spoken in most cities.

7. Egypt — A relatively safe, modern country, with the pyramids and other historic wonders. Decent food and hotels. Relatively inexpensive.

8. South Africa — Outstanding wildlife reserves. Wine-producing estates. Modern, clean cities. Good internal transportation, food and hotels. English spoken all over. 

9. Morocco — Many very interesting historical and cultural sites. Easy access from Spain or Portugal. Safe. English spoken all over. Not expensive.

10. Kenya — Fantastic wildlife.

It was difficult to rate my favorites from 1 to 10, as all of them were outstanding.

 Personal Favorites 

1. Madagascar — Abundant, unique wildlife. One of my best trips out of 52 international trips; covered all areas of this huge island nation.

2. Iran — Wonderful culture and people. Much to see, including some very modern cities and unique architecture. English spoken all over. Great local guides.

3. Myanmar — Fantastic culture. Numerous unique sites. One of my best trips ever.

4. Chile — Patagonia and Cape Horn and the glaciers were memorable. Lots to do and see in this 2,600-mile-long country.

5. Bhutan — The climb to Tiger’s Nest was unforgettable. People, culture, architecture, dress and everything else have not changed in centuries. Very clean.

6. Tanzania — Wonderful wildlife. Great trekking. The best of East Africa.

7.  India — You’ll need two or more trips to see even half of this subcontinent.

8. Indonesia — So much to see and do.

9. Ethiopia — At Easter time it is superb. So much to see and do. Wonderful, gentle people. English spoken all over.

10. Mongolia — I had a fantastic and unique trip to this country.


From Lorna Tjaden of New Hope, MN: Numbers 1, 2 and 3 rank the highest in both of these lists:

Best for Beginning Travelers

1. Peru — Beside Machu Picchu, hike Huayna Picchu for stunning views of the ancient city. In Lake Titicaca, explore the floating islands on which indigenous people live.

2. Australia — Snorkel among the many sea creatures and abundant coral at the Great Barrier Reef. Enjoy an evening of ballet at the Sydney Opera House.

3. Jordan — Go to Petra in January and you’ll be able to observe the enormity of the Treasury without crowds of people. Float in the Dead Sea on a sunny warm day.

4. South Africa — Sit on an ostrich, if you are brave enough, and participate in an Ostrich Derby. Travel on the Shongololo Express for 15 days, taking off-train excursions in the countryside.

5. Botswana — Ride a dugout canoe in the Okavango Delta and see elephants, buffalo, wildebeest and other animals up close. Track the endangered, rarely seen African wild (or painted) dogs, of the canid family.

6. Galápagos Islands/Ecuador — While hiking on or snorkeling near the islands, see tortoises, iguanas and a variety of fish. In the country’s capital, Quito, dine on roasted cuy (guinea pig) at a restaurant.

7. New Zealand — Explore the lush countryside and observe the many wooly sheep and domesticated red deer grazing on the rolling hills. Thrill to the ride on a jet boat on the Dart River.

8. Morocco — Stay in a tent in the Sahara and see the brightness of the stars. Dine on a traditional tagine, such as chicken and almond, in the noisy town square in Marrakech.

9. Vietnam — Travel to Sa Pa by train and visit the colorful, busy weekly market of the hill tribes. Stay overnight in a junk in Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

10. Bali, Indonesia — Observe Balinese Hindus as they take gifts to temples daily to appease and please various gods and goddesses. See the emerald-green Tegallalang Rice Terrace north of Ubud.

Personal Favorites

1. Bali — Stay in a lumbung, a former rice granary building now used for lodging. Celebrate Nyepi (Day of Silence) and see a parade of ogoh-ogohs, huge papier-mâché effigies, the night before.                                                                   

2. Mongolia — See Przewalski’s horses (the only surviving species of wild horse) and Bactrian camels (with two humps) in their natural setting. Sleep in a yurt and have mare’s milk with your evening meal.

3. Sri Lanka — Visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and watch elephants bathe and play in the shallow river. Tour Anuradhapura, an ancient capital of the 3rd century that was rediscovered by the British in the 19th century overgrown by dense jungle.

4. India — Eat food seasoned with turmeric and garam masala. Ride a rickshaw in Delhi with its bustling street life.

5. Myanmar — Ride a carriage in Bagan among the many ancient Buddhist temples. Ride a longboat on Inle Lake and watch fishermen do a slow-motion, over-the-water ballet with conical baskets and oars for props, all while balanced on the bows of their boats.

6. Namibia — Observe black rhinoceroses in Etosha National Park. Learn about the country’s history, from its being a German colony to its independence.                                

7. Laos — Walk through the mysterious Plain of Jars. Stroll the streets of Luang Prabang along the Mekong River.

8. Botswana — Stay in luxurious safari lodges that are situated so you can observe and hear the animals in their natural habitat. Fly in a single-engine aircraft from camp to camp.                                            

9. Egypt — Cruise the Nile River and see the Valley of the Kings, Aswan and Luxor. Contemplate the extensive collection of artifacts at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

10. Turkey — Bargain for a rug in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Stay overnight on a gulet (masted wooden sailing boat) as you sail the Mediterranean coast.                                                                                                     


Detail of a temple in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by Linda Beuret

From Chuck Kirchner of Bainbridge Island, WA: The numbering on these does not connote ranking. On any given day, my personal rankings can change.

Best for Beginning Travelers

1. Belize — Laid-back. Great beaches. Great food. Interesting archaeology. English-speaking.

2. Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan — Surprisingly easy to get around in; most signage is in English. Interesting culture, history and sites.

3. Auckland and New Zealand’s North Island — Nice scenery. Thermal areas. English-speaking.

4. Morocco — A good intro trip to a non-European country. A mix of mountains, desert and shoreline. Amazing culture. Fantastic food. A guide or tour is recommended for first-timers. 

5. Bali, Indonesia — Laid-back. Friendly people. Interesting culture, music and theater. And beaches if you want (though nearby Langkawi Island has better beaches and a different culture). Local guides can be found at most lodgings. 

6. Jamaica — Interesting culture, music and food. Has beaches. Laid-back, especially Negril. English-speaking.

7. Singapore — This port city is clean, with a mix of cultures. English-speaking.

8. Thailand — In particular, Phuket for beaches and Chiang Mai for culture. Pretty easy to get around. Friendly people. English is widely understood. Bangkok can be a bit overwhelming for newby travelers.

9. Sydney and Melbourne, Australia — Modern. Friendly. English-speaking. Interesting landscapes and cityscapes. There’s a chance to see koalas and penguins in their native habitat outside of Melbourne.

10. Hong Kong, China — A port city with intense urban development, but it’s a good introduction to the intensity of Asian mega-cities. English widely spoken. Can easily be done on one’s own.

Personal Favorites

1. Japan — Its scenery, culture and spirituality are unlike anything else I’ve experienced. Tokyo is intense, Kyoto is beautiful, and Miyajima Island (near Hiroshima) has a quiet, spiritual feel (it is, after all, a sacred island). Spending several nights on Miyajima allows one to avoid the midday crowds of day-trippers. 

2. Morocco — The food is marvelous, the casbahs are fascinating, and its scenery includes seashore, mountains and desert.

3. Bhutan — Like walking through National Geographic magazine live and in person. Great scenery. Interesting culture, with Buddhist spirituality.

4. Antigua and Lake Atitlán, Guatemala — Interesting culture. Nice scenery. Attend Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations.

5. Laos — Laid-back. Friendly. Beautiful. Interesting culture.

6. Rajasthan, India — Another totally different experience from what I’m used to. I was there for the Pushkar Mela, a combination of camel fair and religious pilgrimage — a photographer’s dream. Spirituality. Friendliness.

7. Bali — Interesting culture, music, food and people.

8. Cook Islands — While it can be challenging to get to from the US (one weekly flight), it’s well worth it. Maori culture. Friendly folks. Nice beaches. Laid-back. Attending a Sunday-morning church service, with its amazing singing, is a must.

9. Ollantaytambo, Peru — OK, while I really liked Cusco for its Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions, the public market, etc., the town of Ollantaytambo, with its Incan archaeological site (en route to Machu Picchu), was just a pleasure to visit. Cobblestone streets, simple food and lodging, and relatively few tourists (and most of them are just passing through). It just spoke to me.

10. Hong Kong — Exciting. Intense. A wide mix of architectural styles. Take a lovely, if short, journey on one of the Star Ferries.