Whenever we write about Australia, this picture inevitably makes an appearance:
That’s the path to the perfect beach near Carmen’s parents home in Perth. If we ever got homesick on our 18-month odyssey, we looked at that snap and imagined being there.
This morning that fantasy became hot-footed reality. We went to the beach with Carmen’s parents for a hangover busting dip in the salt waves and felt the scorching sand on the path between our toes.
For four months over the blessed Australian summer (40 degree Christmas, barbecues, beer, cricket, sailing, sun cream and sun set drinks) we’ll be seeing our family and friends and recharging our batteries for another go at filling our passports with stamps.
And as we catch up with everyone we’ve been asked the question, “What was your favourite place,” many times and we’ve struggled to come up with a half way decent answer.
All of them? That’s too much. Pick one and explain it. Nah. That doesn’t tell the whole story… surely a listicle would answer best.
So seeing as New Year’s Eve has just passed, and this is the time of year for looking back and thinking deeply about things, here are 14 far flung, exotic, delicious and exciting places and experiences that utterly blew our minds in 2014.
Our favourite destinations in 2014:
We house sat for two months on Dominica and I still can’t get this out of my head:
That’s the chorus of the reggae song that plays over and over and over at Screw’s Sulphur Spas, our favourite hangout on the Caribbean island. The tune sets the scene to begin with, then it gets on your nerves, but by the time you’ve had a super strong rum punch and a long dip in the hottest pool you don’t have a care in the world.
Screw’s taps into the abundant thermal hot springs near Wotton Waven, a jungle covered outpost 10 minutes from the sun-bashed capital of Roseau.
The owner, Screw, has built terraces of pools that range from freezing cold to boiling hot with jungle canopy swaying in the wind up above. It’s a magical place and we went there many times to unwind our muscles after long hikes and sip some rum cocktails with our island friends.
At night, Screw turns on the party lights and gets the bar cranking. If we ever get back to Dominica, we’re heading to Screws the moment we clear island customs!
The tree beach, Guadeloupe
I don’t know what the name of the beach is, but it’s the coolest one I’ve ever been to. All I know is that it was on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe and it had trees right to the waterline.
I grew up on the sun-blasted beaches of Western Australia, where a reverse D-Day assault is required to get into the water. You take off your thongs (Aussie speak for flip-flops), charge across the red hot sand and run into the water, diving under the decapitating waves until you reach the relative calm outside the breakers.
But on that beach in Guadeloupe, it was much more peaceful.
The sand is cool, because it’s totally shaded by the light dappled canopy of a couple hundred coastal trees that grow right out to the water’s edge. You drape your towel down, sit with your back on a trunk and watch the gentle waves roll in. When it’s time for a swim, you can amble down to the water and slip in as easily as going to bed.
Guadeloupe was the first place we tried Couchsurfing and our first host Sandra took us to the beach on our first day on the island. Nearly a year to the day later, Sandra came to meet us in Oaxaca, Mexico and we hosted her in our little flat in that magic city. What goes around comes around!
Isla Del Sol, Bolivia
Lake Titicaca is split between Bolivia and Peru. The Bolivians say they have the Titi, and you can guess the rest.
As far as we’re concerned through, the whole lake is a paradise – it feels as though you’re on the ocean rather than a massive pool of landlocked water. We took a two hour boat ride to the island from Copacabana, and it might’ve been the altitude but the big blue sky seemed a whole lot closer than normal.
The day hike we did around the entire Isla del Sol island was one of the best we’ve done, and it was where we met our buddies Ben and Alice from England, who travelled with us for a while after.
Firm friends and fantastic memories – the recipe for a favourite spot in 2014.
The sentry post, Inca Trail, Peru
Everyone raves about Machu Picchu, but if you’ve hiked the Inca Trail it’s the trail itself you’ll remember rather than the overcrowded ruins at the end.
The sentry post, built by the Incas all those years ago, isn’t as preserved as Machu Picchu and therefore hasn’t lost its charm. It’s not crowded either – our group had it all to ourselves and we could appreciate its beauty quietly.
Everyone seems to think they have to see Machu Picchu, but truth be told there are a lot of other ruins out there that are just as beautiful, if not more beautiful, and a whole lot less crowded.
The Inca Trail was unforgettable though – and the friends we made on that trek were friends that we’ll keep in touch with for life. Amazing really, when you think hardly any of us are from the same country.
Jack’s Café, Cuzco, Peru
There’s not much I miss when I’m away from home… but I do miss the coffee. Australia is a nation of coffee snobs, and I don’t doubt I’m one of them.
No one outside of Australia seems to know what a flat white is (although this seems to be slowly changing) and seeing as that’s my favourite coffee, it made mornings hard for me in 2014.
And then we went to Jack’s Café. I think it’s owned and run by an Australian woman… and there, in the middle of Peru, I found my beloved flat white.
Plus, the breakfasts there were to die for. Think fluffy pancakes, poached eggs and sourdough.
We practically ate there every morning we were in Cuzco – and appreciated every bite.
(And every sip…)
Gordon’s Rocks, Galapagos Islands
When we went to the Galapagos I wanted to see seals, penguins and boobies. But I really wanted to see hammerhead sharks.
We were told Gordon’s Rocks were one of the best scuba dive sites to spot a hammerhead and we booked the trip with trepidation. Would it live up to expectation?
Thankfully, we weren’t disappointed. About 20 minutes into our first dive, after I was beginning to think we weren’t going to spot the sharks, our dive master shook his rattle and pointed below.
And there, swimming in circles below us, was a school of about 20 hammerheads.
Unforgettable? For sure.
The German Bakery, Cuenca, Ecuador
It seems some of our best memories this year have got to do with food, and the German Bakery in Cuenca is no exception.
Run by a German man and his Ecuadorian wife, the German Bakery is the only place (in what feels like the whole of Ecuador) where you can find brown bread.
We’re not fans of white bread at the best of times, so we certainly indulged in the German Bakery’s bread. Even when we were trying to diet while we were there… we still couldn’t pass up on the German bread.
Oh, and did I mention they sell cookies too?
The German Bakery was a favourite hang out for us and our new mates at the language school we attended in Cuenca. We broke bread with them, as they say, and enjoyed every bite!
The bar at Sani Lodge in the Amazon, Ecuador
A gin and tonic, a hammock, and the sound of toucans in the trees. Can it get any better than that? Hardly.
One of our favourite spots from our trip to the Amazon was – unusually – the bar at Sani Lodge. Don’t get us wrong, we loved the hiking and the boat trips up the river, but sipping on a beverage as the sun sets over a caiman-infested lake with the tall trees of the jungle as a backdrop is something that’s hard to be beat.
One night we were called eagerly by the barman to come and check something out. As he was unloading some drinks from the canoe, he’d spotted a large python hanging out in the rafters.
It must be our Aussie blood because rather than running a mile, spotting this big slithery creature was a highlight of the trip.
Oh, and did I mention a double measure of Johnny Walker Black in the bar was $5?
Tin Tin Deo salsa club, Cali, Colombia
What we loved about the salsa clubs in Cali is that no matter how self-conscious you might be, you WILL be dancing on that floor. And no one will look at you twice. That is, unless it is to clap and cheer you on.
All inhibitions melt away as some stranger spins you round and round. And it’s not just us ladies that got swept off our feet – I returned from the bathroom to discover Dave had been taken off to dance.
I’ve gone off clubbing in recent years – but the salsa clubs were one way to get us back into the nightlife, that’s for sure!
We do plan to return one day, we might just have to brush up on a few moves first though, so we don’t completely stand out as gringoes!
10. Tayrona National Park, Colombia
The park itself is beautiful, but once again it was the people we were with that made it one of our favourite places to visit in 2014.
It was our travel buddy Kristin’s second last day in Colombia before flying back to the US – and what a way to spend it! After a bumpy bus ride, we hiked for a few hours into the jungle, passing monkeys on the way, until we came to a picturesque cove.
The palm trees swayed along the shore and a rocky island jutted out of the sand, leading to sweeping views. It was something else.
That night we slept in swaying hammocks which, although sticky with sweat from the hundred other bodies before us, was something we’re glad we’ve done in our lifetime.
The next morning we rode horses out of the jungle, gripping tightly to the animals as they clopped up and down over rocks and through little valleys.
11. Vinales, Cuba
In this small town in Cuba, within a valley surrounded by prehistoric rocks looking like something from the days the dinosaurs walked the earth, lies dirt streets where horses trot. Carts full of vegetables farmers have grown locally are pulled along, and touts bug you only on the main squares street corners, allowing you to walk the streets in peace.
This was our favourite part of Cuba. It was quiet, the views were spectacular, and hiking took you to tobacco farms, through jungle and over fields being farmed by oxen. We also found alittle hut in the middle of the jungle that sold cigars and coffee – a perfect combination!
One night we watched an electrical storm from our casa particular roof top and wondered why it took us so long to visit this country.
More cenotes than we had time to visit, all on the outskirts of a seldom visited (at least for more than a few hours) colonial town in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula… Valladolid was our first stop in Mexico where we managed to breathe a sigh of relief. We’d found it. The real Mexico.
After travelling up and down from Cancun to Tulum, we were shocked at how touristy and almost Vegas-like the region was. It was hard to spot a Mexican! It wasn’t what we’d had in mind when we’d planned on visiting Mexico.
So Valladolid was a welcome respite. Not only is it the perfect spot from which to visit all the ruins in the region, it’s a charming town with great food.
Oh and this house of art isn’t too bad either.
Did we mention the food in Mexico is drool-worthy? I’m sure we have, once or twice. And if there’s one thing I’ve learnt last year, it’s that the best local fare comes from the market stalls and street vendors.
And Oaxaca was no exception. Our favourite stall was one that served tortas – the chilli relleno chicken was to die for. We went back. More than once or twice. In fact, I think I still dream of it melting in my mouth…
Anyway, the crickets and live worms they were selling in the corners of the market weren’t as delicious. Bet hey, if you want local food you’ll find all kinds in the market!
14. The Mexico City Museums
Mexico City apparently has the most museums of any city of the world. Not really what I was thinking about, when I thought about Mexico City, but after travelling through the country itself for three months, it was easy to see how by the end of it.
Mexico’s culture is so rich and vibrant – there are more than 50 languages spoken throughout the nation, for example.
You go to one part of the country and they specialise in pottery making, another village might cook mole in a certain way, and the third place you visit could use shamans to practise their spirituality and religion.
This is one of the reasons why we loved Mexico so much – it’s just so diverse and there are so many layers to it.
The museums in Mexico City reflect this. The Anthropology Museum is the biggest in the world, and the Folk Art galleries show pieces so beautiful you wonder why you’ve never seen that type of art before.
The museums of Mexico City are a must see.
And an extra one…
Our parents’ back gardens… and the Aussie beach (which is practically in their back gardens)
There’s no doubt we’ve seen some amazing places this year, but it’s our parents homes and gardens where we still feel the most at home.
And it’s not surprising – we have so much history there. We were married in Carmen’s parents’ garden nearly three years ago.
Dave’s mum (an artist) once built a lifesize mosaic statue of a woman, which still stands in his parents’ garden, in the hope of attracting a woman for Dave. I guess it worked!
One great thing about Australia, which we missed in London, is that most people have large gardens and we often spend a lot of time outdoors. I guess the weather invites that.
And when we’re not relaxing in the garden, you can find us at the beach. And with scenes like these, can you blame us?