I had a hell of a year in 2015. After leaving Australia indefinitely for the Americas and then Europe, I had no real idea what I was getting myself into. What resulted was 11 months exploring this wonderful planet, stoking my passion for travel and experiencing a different type of lifestyle. I took my Instagram addiction to the next level and really started to delve into photography which has become a big hobby of mine. I ended up visiting 27 countries in 2015 – some new to me, others revisiting – and here were my favourites.
Peru is now one of my favourite countries I’ve ever been to. After hearing stories from friends and seeing photos from my brother, I knew it was somewhere I wanted to see with my own eyes. Before going, in my mind Peru was just Machu Picchu and some other places. I now know better.
Every place I stopped at felt distinct and fascinating. After arriving from Bogota, walking around the streets of Miraflores in Lima felt like being back home, not a care in the world. Slowly acclimatising to altitude was a little challenging but well worth it to experience the natural splendour of Colca Canyon and its resident condors. I had only considered Cusco as my starting point for getting to Machu Picchu, but I realised that it had charms of its own. Puno and Lake Titicaca offered something different again, with the remarkable reed islands and their cheery inhabitants.
But honestly, nothing could surpass the experience of hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I was worried I would struggle on the 4 day trek, but while it wasn’t easy, I survived. Along the way, I met some wonderful people, witnessed stunning scenery, camped in unstable weather and proved I was more capable than I thought. I can’t describe the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that hit me when I reached the Sun Gate overlooking the ruins of Machu Picchu. Getting to explore the ruins the next day was wonderful and there were times that I just sat down and took it all in. I’ll be back Peru.
For a month early in the year, I took an Intrepid tour through Central America from Guatemala to Panama City. I had come to the region to particularly see Belize and Costa Rica and hadn’t given Panama much thought to be honest. So Panama was really a dark horse for me. It felt like the cheaper, more relaxed, quieter sibling to the surprisingly touristy Costa Rica. I think Costa Rica’s biggest selling point is the sheer diversity of activities/environments that you can find there. But I don’t think Panama was any more lacking on that front.
The islands of Bocas del Toro met the needs for cruising around in boats, snorkelling, swimming and lounging about at the beach and in the sun. Staying on the island of Bastimentos it felt truly in the middle of nowhere. Back on the mainland, the small surf town of Santa Catalina while also a beach destination had a totally different vibe. I loved just wandering its empty roads and being able to watch the sun set over the ocean was magical. Different again was the town of Boquete in the highlands, with its dense jungle and coffee plantations. While I did so many activities in places like Belize and Costa Rica I did relatively few in Panama. I was able to just sit and take it all in and that was enough.
When it came to the big cities in Central America, I didn’t really care for any of them but Panama City. This metropolis looks a little like Miami at times, but don’t hold that against it. Panama City certainly felt like the most liveable, western of the cities I visited, from seeing a crowd of people doing a yoga session by the waterfront, to its modern transport network, to its huge shopping mall. Plus, it still had an interesting old town. All in all, Panama felt like it had a little of everything.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina was a big surprise for me. My intent on going there was to see places like Sarajevo and Mostar on the way to my main destination of Montenegro, but I left realising that this country has so much to offer through different lenses:
- Historically – with its impacts on World War I in Sarajevo, not to mention the bullet-ridden scars seen everywhere of the country’s more recent history;
- Culturally – with is fascinating mix of Balkan/Ottoman architecture, religion and people; and
- Cuisine – with its strong Turkish influence of Cevapi, Burek and Pljeskavica.
There’s also so much to see in Bosnia and Herzegovina, yet it really doesn’t attract a huge number of visitors, which both baffles and pleases me (that I don’t have to share it). Mostar is certainly the biggest tourist draw and with good reason as its bridge and old town are enchantingly beautiful. It’s proximity to Dubrovnik can make it a little crowded, but its location also means there are lots of day trips you can make, like to the serene Blagaj Tekija Monastery.
Because of its smaller tourist market, there are more places that you can uncover and explore for yourself. The southern city of Trebinje was one of those, tucked away amongst beautiful landscapes with some gorgeous churches and bridges. A real highlight though, was the small town of Jajce in the north. Jajce is a small fortified town with an impressive waterfall just outside the city walls and within walking proximity to a series of lakes joined by other small waterfalls. Really the only other visitors I came across as I wandered about were school groups on excursion, so it felt like I had the place to myself.
I think that’s what really stuck with me, there’s plenty to see and do in Bosnia and Herzegovina without worrying about excessive crowds. Oh and everything is quite cheap relative to the rest of Europe and even neighbours like Croatia. Cheap, interesting, quiet and plenty to explore. Easy to see why I had a great time.
Honestly, Spain blew me away. I ended up spending roughly a month across the country and feel like I only scratched the surface. And yet, even when I only spent a day or two in places like Madrid and Barcelona, I came away with an affinity and appreciation for them. I think Spain just has everything I’m looking for in a great travel destination. Eating tapas and paella, drinking beer and sangria all the time is fine by me. It has such a vibrant mesh of cultures and architecture that there’s always new things to notice and appreciate the longer you’re there. There’s also a clearly distinct way of life here, with siestas and late dinners the most notable examples.
I now totally get what everyone’s been saying about Andalusia. Everywhere I went in this region amazed me. Seville, Cordoba, the Alhambra of Granada, the bridge of Ronda, they were all beautiful places with such depth. Even Nerja on the Costa del Sol full of British holidaymakers won me over. What’s great about Andalusia is that it does have those mega landmark sites like the Alhambra, the Mezquita and the Alcazar of Seville but there’s also so much more to the places. Don’t get me wrong, the landmarks like the Alhambra and the Alcazar are world class sites and a must-see, but you’re also able to find quieter spots even in a big city like Seville and explore what normal city life is like.
Anyway, I could prattle on about Spain for a long time so I’ll cut it short. I know there will be plenty more trips to Spain to come for me. There’s always going to be somewhere else to visit.
Well, those were my favourite countries of 2015 that I ventured to. Have you been to any of the above? What were your favourites of the last year?