The gift of travel is an education and a delight. Below is part two of our top 2012 destinations:
SAN JUAN ISLANDS, Wash.: If you enjoy sea kayaking, whale-watching, boating, hiking, golfing, camping, or horseback riding, you’ll want to visit this serene area. There are 172 islands in the archipelago, some a little more than rocks, and over 300 miles of shoreline. The tallest peak is Mount Constitution at almost exactly a half-mile elevation. The coastlines are a mix of beaches, harbors, and bays. Gnarled, ochre-colored madrona trees (Arbutus) grace much of the shorelines while evergreen fir and pine forests cover large inland areas. The islands are home to creatures such as bald eagles, harbor seals, river otters, killer whales, and black-tailed deer.
SAVANNAH, Ga.: Founded in 1733, Savannah is one of America’s favorite destinations. Located in the heart of coastal Georgia’s lowcountry, the city is a rare natural beauty with landscapes of azaleas and stately oaks draped with Spanish moss. There are distinctive park-like squares, quaint cobblestone streets, and unusual architecture of homes and churches. Take a walking tour that emphasizes antiques, African-American heritage, the Civil War, gardens, cemeteries, ghosts, Southern writers, and Paula Dean’s restaurants.
SEYCHELLES: Although it’s a tedious plane ride from the U.S., this island was once called the original Garden of Eden. As a popular retreat for honeymooners and celebrities, these 115 coral and granite isles are scattered across 176 square miles in the Indian Ocean, 1,000 miles off the east coast of Africa. At one time, Saudi princes landed their private 747s and threw wild “spaghetti parties” (think hot tubs filled with pasta). Environmentalism is important here; a combination of vibrant Creole culture and the island nation’s storied past of African, Asian, and European cultures. It’s known for the traditional moutya, an erotic dance derived from the days of slavery and features colorful lyrics.
NEW ZEALAND: A mixture of Nantucket and California casual, New Zealand is known for its friendly residents. The landscapes are spectacular — sandy beaches in the subtropical north, glaciers and alpine skiing in the south. It’s a scuba-diving paradise. About the size of Colorado, New Zealand’s driving is relatively easy with uncrowded roads, but driving is on the left side. With a population of four million, the country’s spectacularly beautiful landscape includes vast mountain chains, steaming volcanoes, sweeping coastlines, deeply indented fiords, and lush rainforests. Dinner is known as “tea” and potlucks as “bring a plate.”
CUBA: You may not see Antonio Banderas, Armand Assante (Mambo Kings), Robert Redford, or Lena Olin (Havana) while you’re in town, but you’ll delight in Old Havana with its cathedrals, museums, Latin music, and atmospheric Malecon. Cuba has some of the least crowded beaches in the Caribbean. Outside Havana, there are two resort strips, golf courses, and romantic accommodations, as well as great diving locales at Playa Matia la Gorda. Some may prefer the tiny island of Cayo Largo del Sur. There are colonial towns with sugar barons’ mansions and architectural heritage. Compared to the rest of the Caribbean, Cuba is a bargain with dinners (and mojitos) costing less than twenty bucks.
Sue Facter owns a news agency that specializes in the luxury brand. Her work has appeared in USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Greer’s OC, Women’s Day Australia, on broadcasts, and the web.