What will you resolve to do in 2011? Never mind weight loss, or quitting smoking – what about traveling more, or traveling better? Make this the year you get out of your rut and try something new – here are eight great trips to consider as you plan your year.
#1 LIMA, PERU
Too many Americans rush through this bustling coastal hub city on their way to some place more glamorous – Macchu Picchu, for instance, or the Amazon. But Lima, a city that geographically feels awfully reminiscent of Los Angeles, is a ton of fun, and surprisingly easy to navigate. From $1 glasses of freshly-squeezed juice at the Mercado de Surquillo to the delectable ceviches served in gorgeous surroundings at the hip El Mercado restaurant to late night coca sours at the lounges and bars in the chic Barranco district, Lima is paradise for foodies and nightlife lovers; others will love one of the most impressively preserved historic centers you'll find in any major Latin American city. No lie, Lima's hectic and loud and smells like diesel fumes, but it'll get under your skin, and you'll be glad you stopped by. Oh, and try the coca tea – it really works.
YOUR TURN LAN operates flights from the United States; from New York, the flight time is just 7 hours or so. Learn more at www.lan.com. Hotels catering to foreigners can often be brutally overpriced; try an alternative lodging source like www.airbnb.com or www.couchsurfing.org.
#2 GO LOCAL IN MAUI
As most people experience it, Maui is a very pretty tourist trap. Few of the resorts on its sunny western shores are worth either the journey or the money, unless you live on the West Coast and get a good package deal. East Coasters can sit at Sheratons on nice beaches a lot closer to home anytime they want to, in places like Florida, or the Caribbean. But as soul-crushingly same-same as the one side of Maui can be, the majority of the island is still very much a contrarian's paradise. You don't see a lot of tourists in terrific and terrifically cheap eateries like Sam Sato's or Tokyo Tei, over in workaday Wailuku, the county seat. You never have to fight Road to Hana-style traffic driving through the eucalyptus stands lining Olinda Road from the old ranch town of Makawao. Want a platter from the state's best shrimp truck? No lines of Japanese tourists (as on Oahu's North Shore) at the unimpeachable Geste's, located in a dusty lot by the harbor in Kahului. For an island that is so synonymous with tourism, there sure is a lot of ground that the tourists never seem to cover. Thank God.
YOUR TURN Get the insider's view of Maui and its food scene — call Bonnie Friedman at Tour Da Food. Friedman's decades on the island combined with her passion for local culture (and eating) make her the ultimate ambassador for the real Maui. Her tours will lead you some rather unusual places, and her sassy Brooklyn attitude will have you feeling right at home. Information at www.tourdafood.com.
#3 EXPLORE CAPE TOWN
It rained like hell the first morning I spent in Cape Town last September, but I'd been told about a weekly food market in an old factory out in the industrial wasteland that is Woodstock; an area just out of the city center that was firmly a no-go when I was last in town ten years ago. What a difference a decade makes — today, amid the auto body shops and faceless storage warehouses, the Saturdays-only Neighbourgoods Market reels in a whole cross-section of Capetonian society not only for organic veggies and fresh, crusty bread, but also for full-blown brunch. At nine in the morning, ladies in fur coats are sitting at long, rustic tables slurping down fresh, local oysters and guzzling champagne from the nearby Winelands; those with fewer rand in pocket are nibbling croissants while waiting in line for fair-trade espressos from local roaster Origin. There's so much people watching here (and so much to taste) it's hard to know where to turn. The market is just one of many little experiences that add up to a Cape Town that's better than ever. At this point, the city (not to mention the heartstoppingly-beautiful surrounds) is almost too good to be stuck way down in a sometimes frustratingly backward and dangerous South Africa. There are a lot of places that are a slog to get to; bump this one up towards the top of your list.
YOUR TURN South African Airways flies to Cape Town daily via Johannesburg; information at www.flysaa.com. For more about Cape Town, visit www.capetown.travel.
#4 UNWIND IN THE ATACAMA
The world's driest desert, this agreeable region of Chile, already a rather agreeable country, is found all the way up by Bolivia. The action is centered on the small town of San Pedro de Atacama; it's a scruffy Santa Fe, a place where you don't have to be a millionaire to come and find yourself. Some say it's one of the happier places on earth — this could be due to the high metal content in the water. It could also be due to the availability of great, cheap cocaine from across the border. We prefer to think it's the sweeping, dramatic landscapes, the restorative hot springs, the Andes in the distance, the curious little villages, the giant sand dunes, hiking through the canyons, relaxing in the spas at San Pedro's many upscale lodges, or eating quinoa risotto and drinking cheap red wine by the firepit at one of the town's handful of surprisingly good and affordable restaurants. The whole thing feels like summer camp for grown-ups. If you've never considered visiting South America, the Atacama could easily change your mind. Coming here is about as challenging as going to Canada.
YOUR TURN Fly LAN to Santiago daily from destinations in the US such as New York-JFK; information at www.lan.com. From Santiago, fly to Calama (2 hours) on LAN or local budget carrier Sky Airlines (www.skyairlines.cl). Most lodges in the Atacama provide transfers from the airport, 1 hour from San Pedro.
#6 GO FISH – IN SITKA
Catching fish in Alaska is often as easy as, well, shooting fish in a barrel. This explains the proliferation of terrible hunting and fishing lodges all over the state that assume their only brief is to bring guests to the fish, damn everything else. Sure, there are plenty of aficionados out there who don't need hospitality, good food or comfortable beds, but it's always seemed strange that Alaska's hoteliers never contemplated the idea of making themselves attractive to the sort of traveler who just wants to unwind in splendid isolation, versus spending days on end out on a little fishing boat, bobbing up and down on the Pacific Ocean, which ends up claiming the lunch of many a fisherman, even the ones made of the sternest stuff. Many Alaskan bush camps are run by grumpy old isolationists who want your thousands of dollars but can barely even crack a smile in the mornings; not so Dove Island Lodge, a surprisingly upscale affair on its very own little island just a few minutes via skiff out of Sitka's quiet harbor. The owners, Duane and Tracie Lambeth, have a hospitality pedigree and hail from California's Napa Valley. Each new arrival is greeted like an old friend; the accommodations are remarkably comfortable an the food is amazing. (You've probably never eaten a Dungeness crab like the ones you can get in Alaska, trust us on this.)
YOUR TURN There are a lot of places in the state to go fishing, but there's something quite likeable about historic Sitka. It is part of the beautiful Southeast region, but quite far off the beaten cruise ship path, thanks to a location that's kind of out of the way. Learn more about the lodge and the destination at www.doveislandlodge.com. For more general information about travel to Alaska, visit www.travelalaska.com.
#7 LIVE LARGE IN BUENOS AIRES
Chances are, you've never been to Argentina's tango-loving capital; this makes sense. Even if you could afford to travel there, what's the rush, right? It's really far away from everywhere – that whole "but it's like Paris!" thing is a little ridiculous, considering that many Americans live closer to the real Paris. (Also, in Paris, they have restaurants that serve things besides cheap cuts of steak. Also, we hear they have some pretty good wine over there, in France.) But while Buenos Aires is a trek and there's no guarantee it'll be love at first sight – it's dirty, crowded, loud and filled with pushy people and petty scammers – you'll definitely realize, and quickly, that it's like no other town you've ever visited. Never mind how it looks, or that everyone has an Italian last name (or so it seems) – this isn't Europe. Not at all. This is Buenos Aires, a tortured city in a dysfunctional country with a heck of to teach visitors about how to live. Never mind that its go-for-the-gusto attitude comes in part from a sad place, a place where you say tomorrow-be-damned because it may just in fact be damned. Just being here offers a powerful lesson in how to just live your life to the fullest every day. Leave the future to the future. Also: You can sleep when you’re dead. Or when you get home. Don't be surprised if Buenos Aires sticks with you for a long time; don't be surprised if you find yourself fantasizing about going back, and soon.
YOUR TURN No matter how you slice it, Buenos Aires is really far away — consider stopping in Miami along the way. There are non-stops from New York, but it’s a little shorter (8-9 hours) from Miami, and you’ve got your pick of airlines — LAN, Aerolineas Argentinas, American. Once there, rent an apartment – there are great affordable options available at www.flipkey.com.
#8 FEBRUARY IN LOS CABOS
What else needs to be said, really? Sunny days, blue skies, beautiful landscapes and, with the economy in its primary feeder markets (California, for instance) still terrible, you're more than likely to find things a little more quiet than you're expecting. Yes, Cabo San Lucas is a total dreckfest, but that’s the lone downside to the peninsula, which offers a whole array of different settings in which to unwind and feel like the luckiest person on earth while everyone else is buried in snow. There are really good resorts — some of the best in North America — like One&Only Palmilla, where you pay more, but you get more. Then there’s the super-charming colonial town of San Jose del Cabo, with a pleasant hotel right on the classically Mexican central square. Loners can retreat to remote lodges out in the middle of nowhere, or spend some time in the tiny, artistically-inclined Todos Santos. You want to know the truth, here it is: Cabo is the only beach resort in Mexico worth caring all that much about. Nervous nellies will also be pleased to know that it’s also a world removed from the drama afflicting so much of what locals refer to as “the mainland.” Simply, Cabo is the sort of place you pray to get stranded. And in February, that can happen. Hint: Route yourself through a place that gets a lot of snow on the way home.
YOUR TURN Choose a hotel that's closer to San Jose del Cabo than Cabo San Lucas. Not only will you be closer to the airport, you'll be far away from the Niagara Falls-style cheesiness that has made the latter a must-miss. In our opinion — and nearly everyone else's — the best bet is the One&Only Palmilla resort, an updated historic property with beautiful landscaping and unimpeachable service. Food is the only weak spot — it's just not that exciting. Luckily, San Jose del Cabo's just minutes away, with plenty of much more affordable restaurants to choose from (from $450, right now get 4 nights for the price of 3, including a $100 credit; www.oneandonlyresorts.com).
A longer version of this story originally appeared in the New York Post. Follow David around the world in 2011 via his Twitter feed @davidlandsel.