Editor’s Note: In gearing up for the announcement of the Top Destinations for Indie Travelers in 2013 on Janary 3, we thought it would be fun to republish all the top destination articles from the past 5 years. The article below is our list for 2010 and was originally published on December 22, 2009.
Once again, the writers, editors, and community at BootsnAll have collected up our best recommendations for destinations we think are worth considering for any independent traveler. Lists like this seem to be everywhere these days, which is another reason we try to make ours special by highlighting a mix of popular places along with places that aren’t on everyone’s radar just yet.
Before we get to 2010′s list, if you haven’t been following along and want to look back at the places we’ve listed in prior years (and check out some of our newer ones), here’s your chance:
- Top 10 Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2008
- Top 10 Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2009
- Top 10 Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2011
- Top 10 Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2012
Ready for 2010 now? Alright, here we go…
10 – Fukuoka, Japan
In spite of having a population of 1.5 million, Fukuoka is compact enough to see on foot, but they’ve also got a clean and efficient subway system for those with a bit less energy. For great views of this modern city you can head to the 234-meter Fukuoka Tower or the giant Sky Dream Ferris Wheel for a 20-minute ride. For something uniquely Japanese you can go to Robosquare, where you can watch or participate in demonstrations of personal robots for free.Fun to say? Sure. But on top of that Fukuoka is a highly recommended destination for anyone wanting to see what Japan is like outside of its insanely huge and crowded capital of Tokyo.
The city also has its famous Canal City shopping complex, where you can get an up-close look at the Japanese retail obsession, complete with wacky one-of-a-kind souvenir items and all manners of trendy fashions. And if the sun is out you can head over to Mitoma Beach to see how the locals cool off and even surf when the waves are good. The notable local cuisine is a variety of pork-flavored ramen noodles that are found pretty much everywhere.
Day trips from Fukuoka include Hiroshima, Mt. Asa (an active volcano) and Beppu, a resort town with hot springs, monkeys, and themed pools termed “The Hells.”
You can fly directly into Fukuoka from most major cities in Asia and all over Japan, or you can take a 5-hour train ride from Tokyo if you are combining the two.
Find a flight to Fukuoka
9 – Durban, South Africa
This is a very special year for South Africa, and for Africa as a whole. In June, the 19th World Cup, the largest and most-watched event in sport, descends on South Africa. Never before has a World Cup, or any event of this size, been held anywhere on the continent, and our pick of the ten cities hosting the Cup is Durban.
No stranger to visitors, Durban is the busiest port city in Africa, and also one of the most tourist friendly. The Golden Mile, Durban’s famous stretch of beach, is a must-see for the traveler who wants more out of their African vacation than just Big Five wildlife tours. Surfing is popular here, and though South Africa is famous for its sharks, netting protects the Golden Mile’s beach from the marine predators. If you want a safer look at the sharks that are swimming just beyond the nets, the uShaka Marine World aquarium has the world’s largest shark tank.
There’s no doubt that Durban (and South Africa overall) has its problems, with crime rates that might scare off some tourists, but it also has so much to offer to the educated traveler. Add in the world’s biggest international party, the World Cup, and you have a must-see destination for 2010.
There aren’t many international flights straight into Durban, and most travelers will have to enter South Africa through the main hub, Johannesburg. There are several small carriers like Mango and Kulula that run daily domestic flights to Durban from all the other major cities in South Africa.
8 – Iceland
By now most people are aware of Iceland’s financial mini-collapse, and as awful as that may be for many of its citizens, the silver lining is being enjoyed by budget-oriented travelers who can suddenly afford a visit. Long described as stunning, unique, and jaw-droppingly expensive, it seems that prices are actually now in line with other European countries so that third part is on hold, at least for a while.
You’ll fly in near Reykjavik and almost everyone enjoys spending the first day or so checking out the small and charming capital, but Iceland is similar to New Zealand in that the largest city is perhaps the least spectacular thing about the place.
One popular strategy is to rent a car for a week or so and trace the Route 1 – Ring Road around the island in either direction. Along the way you’ll have plenty of opportunities to take in glaciers, geysers, waterfalls, national parks, lakes, volcanic craters, and fjords along with a bit of wildlife.
Flights from either North America or Europe are reasonable, thanks to Iceland Air and their program that allows free Transatlantic stop-overs for those not satisfied with making Iceland their only destination. And the country’s most famous single attraction – the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa – is an easy stop near the airport.
7 – Sighisoara, Romania
Independent travelers wanting to visit Central-Eastern Europe typically start with Budapest or Prague and hardly ever go deeper than that. But those looking to explore some of the jewels of the region should definitely consider Sighisoara.
The Romanian town of Sighisoara, located deep in Transylvania, on Tarnava River, has preserved the features of a small medieval fortified city in a remarkable way. The landmark of this picturesque town, which has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, is the Clock Tower, a 64-meter tower built in 1556, currently home to the Museum of History (and from the top balcony offering the best views of citadel and surrounding areas).
Near the end of July each year the tiny cobblestone streets of the citadel are flooded with visitors from all over the world coming here for the Medieval Festival. English, French and German are useful here, regardless of the time of the year when you visit, although if you venture into the new parts of the town, it’s useful to know at least some Romanian phrases.
In addition to the well-preserved medieval buildings, Sighisoara is also famous for being the (alleged) birth town of Vlad Dracul (a.k.a. Dracula). The house where he was born still exists and is located close to the Clock Tower (currently it’s a restaurant).
You can get to Sighisoara by train from any major Romanian city (Bucharest, Cluj Napoca, Brasov, Sibiu, etc.) and there are direct train connections from Budapest, Vienna and Prague as well.
6 – Philippines
As most of the world’s budget travelers seem to be descending on the mainland part of Southeast Asia, those looking to get off the well-trodden tourist trail will be heading to the Philippines. With over 7,000 islands in the archipelago, it makes perfect sense that you’ve got a lot of options when it comes to scenery and activities.
There’s world-class diving and snorkeling available, at prices that are significantly lower than in most of the rest of the world. Whitewater rafting is also big in the country, but for those who are more interested in just relaxing you’ve got a choice of excellent beaches of every variety, with Boracay Beach being the most famous internationally.
The culture is a mix of a variety of indigenous peoples along with some notable Spanish influences and even some American thrown in. The locals have a reputation as some of the friendliest towards outsiders in the world, and nearly everyone speaks at least some English so if you can read this article then there will be no language barrier to worry about. Prices for almost everything are quite low, so your travel fund goes a long way here and might allow you much more luxury than you are used to.
Most visitors will fly into Manila, which is certainly worth a look on its own, but another option is the large and modern seaport of Cebu, which seems to be gaining on the capital as a favorite entry point for travelers.
5 – Split, Croatia
It seems like everyone was talking about Croatia a few years ago so this is yet another spot where you certainly won’t be the only tourist in town. Still, it’s worth considering a visit for a great number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the country continues to be more affordable than most of its neighbors, and loaded with interesting things to see and do as well.
Those who want to get past Croatia’s capital city of Zagreb will usually head to Dubrovnik, but many people complain that it has gotten too touristy in the past few years in the same way that Prague seems to be bursting at the seams with gift shops. But Split isn’t yet suffering from that syndrome, so there’s still time to check out all the Roman ruins and palaces and unique culture without feeling like you are part of one big tour group.
Split is yet another city that has a well-preserved and easily walkable historic city center, so you’ll be able to take in all the cathedrals, temples, museums, and markets your heart desires. But of course you’ve got lovely beaches with opportunities to do water sports if you’ve got the energy, plus abundant ferries to nearby Adriatic islands for something more exclusive.
If you shop around you might want to look for a cheap flight into Zagreb and then take a train or bus to Split, but there are plenty of flights directly into Split itself so that’s worth a try, especially if you’ll be coming from nearby.
4 – British Columbia, Canada
British Columbia is going to be in the news in a really intense way in a month or so when the Olympics descend upon Vancouver. If past Olympics coverage is anything to go by, they should do a pretty good job of showing off the natural beauty of the region – but just in case you’re not glued to the TV, we wanted to make sure you still had BC on your tourism radar.
City lovers will find plenty to get excited about in Vancouver, but we would suggest British Columbia is more about wilderness. Two big mountain ranges, thick forests, and an intricate network of islands off the coast – some of which are extremely remote – are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to BC’s great outdoors.
And even though exploring the far reaches of Northern British Columbia isn’t exactly practical during the height of winter, by all means get excited about a BC trip during the 2010 Olympics and plan your own trip for the summer of 2010. BootsnAll writer Jessica Spiegel did a road trip through BC in August 2009, and highlighted “5 reasons to visit British Columbia” in a recent article.
Most visitors will want to fly into Vancouver, but flights to Seattle might be cheaper and it’s only a few hours away if you are doing the road trip thing anyway.
3 – Scotland
The majority of travelers coming to Britain don’t ever leave the confines of London, and this is a great shame, because just a short flight or train ride north is Scotland, land of whisky, bagpipes and golf.
Clichés aside, there are few travel destinations that offer so much to so many different kinds of travelers. Whether your idea of the perfect vacation is playing golf on world-famous courses like Turnberry or St. Andrews, or backpacking through some of the most rugged trails in Europe, you will find it here.
Edinburgh is by far the most popular tourist city, and home to one of Britain’s most visited attractions, Edinburgh Castle. For the more party-minded, Glasgow has a fantastic bar and live music scene, and has become one of the hotspots of British rock in the last decade. But it’s outside of the cities that you find the real heart of Scotland, especially up north in the famed Highlands.
Anyone who loves the outdoors (and doesn’t mind a bit of rain on their back) would be hard-pressed to find a better definition of heaven, with beautiful landscapes dotted with the ruins of medieval castles. And even farther up the map, the Orkney Islands offer a totally unique blend of Scottish and Norse culture and some of the best whale and wildlife watching in northern Europe. Scotland is definitely rugged, and the winters are not for the meek, but those who brave the chance of rain get back more than they ever expected.
Though you can get flights straight to Edinburgh from several cities in Europe, most people get their international flight to London Heathrow, then add a domestic leg on one of the budget airlines to Edinburgh or Glasgow. If you want to get out of the city and into the Highlands fast, fly from London straight to Inverness, capital of the Highlands and home of world famous Loch Ness.
2 – Pucón, Chile
For 2009 we recommended Bariloche, Argentina, and this year we are going with what is more or less considered the Chilean version of that, at least in that it’s known as the adventure capital of the country and is popular all year round.
Located in the Lake District on Lago Villarica, the entire area is gorgeous as the backdrop often includes the stunning and perpetually snowcapped Villarica Volcano. You can take a non-technical guided hike up the volcano and even visit the lava crater if that appeals to you. During winter the area is a major center for skiing and snowboarding, and there are plenty of natural hot springs to visit as well.
During warmer months it might take less space to list the things that aren’t available, but just to hit some highlights you’ve got easy access to hiking, white-water rafting, canopy tours, horseback riding, cycling, golf, and fishing. And since the place is a mecca for international backpackers as well as those from the region, it’s no surprise that there is active nightlife that can take on almost any form. Well-heeled Chileans also use the area as a summer resort, so there’s more going on than just catering to backpacker types.
Getting there can be a bit tricky, since the airport is only open during warm months (December through February), though affordable overnight buses from Santiago operate all year round.
1 – New Zealand
Picking New Zealand for a list of great destinations for independent travelers is a bit like picking the Beatles for a list of great British bands, so here it is. If you haven’t yet had the privilege to visit this country you are probably already sick of hearing people rave about it, but still, the visit itself is likely to be so different from anywhere else you’ve been that it’s hard to stay quiet about it.
First off, Auckland is a pleasant enough city, but don’t waste more than a day or two at the beginning and/or end of your trip in the city, since all the magic is elsewhere. Train service in New Zealand is limited and slow, so most people either get around on one of the backpacker bus companies, or rent a vehicle of some kind for a DIY tour. Cars and motorbikes are available, but the true classic New Zealand adventure is done by renting a campervan (motor home) and staying in the cheap holiday parks (camp grounds) all over both islands that also serve the social function of hostels everywhere else.
Auckland is on the North Island, which is also home to many popular sights and attractions, but nearly everyone agrees that the South Island is the more special of the two, so don’t even think about limiting your trip to just one or the other. Queenstown on the South Island is gorgeous and loaded with things to do all year round, so make sure you don’t leave that one off your itinerary if it can be helped.
Flights to Auckland tend to be the cheapest and easiest to find, though if you are in the region already you might head straight for the pleasant city of Christchurch on the South Island instead.
Scotland by Moyan_Brenn, Durban by PhilippN, Sighisoara by Marion Schneider, New Zealand by Adam Seper, Iceland by Kenny Muir, Pucón by Adam Seper, British Columbia by kennymatic, Split by rhonya76, Philippines by palm.baloybeach, Fukuoka by tossy2379