The other day a friend of mine wrote to me and said he has been reading the site but was curious as to where I would recommend he and his wife go for their first adventure.
That question inspired me to write this post. Here are five destinations that I would highly recommend to first-time travelers:
Probably the first thing that comes to mind when people think of visiting Italy is the food. And it should be, because eating out in Italy is a treat and worth the trip even if it’s all you manage to do.
Of course Italy has a lot more to offer. You can spend weeks enjoying the wonderful ocean villages of Cinque Terre, the canals and neighboring islands of Venice, the great art in Florence, or the amazing history of Rome. Italy has so much going on that you’ll quickly realize there is not enough time to enjoy it all.
Italy is certainly well visited by tourists and Italians are very welcoming. When I went in 2004 I was prepared to use my poor Italian that I had learned but everybody I met was happy to speak English and would chat me up for hours on end if time allowed. The train system goes everywhere you’ll need to go and is easy to use. And best of all, the major cities are all wonderful walking towns. Rome has a metro system, but you’re better off walking to where you need to go and seeing the great sights around town.
You’ll also be able to find hostels and budget hotels everywhere you go. I rarely recommend booking in advance, but Italy has a lot of visitors and it’s not cheap either. It’s best to book things in advance if possible.
Who hasn’t dreamt of the city of lights? Whether you’re a hopeless romantic, wine connoisseur, or art buff, Paris is a place that everybody can enjoy.
Spend a day (a week is easily doable) in the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa. Check out the Van Gogh paintings in Musee D’Orsay. Walk around the Latin Quarter and practice your French by chatting up a Parisian student. Head up the steep cobblestone walkways of Montmartre and enjoy the views of the city from the Sacre Coeur. Buy some bread, cheese, and a cheap bottle of wine and enjoy a picnic lunch on the banks of the Seine. Don’t forget the obligatory trip up the Eiffel tower!
If you are there for a few days, take the train to Versailles. Enjoying dinner there is expensive, but viewing a castle like that is certainly an awe-inspiring sight.
Costa Rica is a little more challenging for first time travelers but there is a lot of upside. Many hardcore travelers would consider Costa Rica “touristy” but it is far less visited than any of the other countries listed so far.
On the negative side, Costa Rica’s capital city of San Jose can be dangerous and offers very little other than a large airport. If you do some research though, you’ll find you only need to go into the city for specific buses and staying in neighboring Alajuela is a much better option for overnight stops. Stay away from the Coca-Cola bus terminal at night and you’ll be safe.
On the positive side, Costa Rica offers some of the most beautiful nature in the world. While the bus system may not be the smoothest in the world, it does exist and can take you around the entire country. It’s also very cheap!
The influx of tourism to Costa Rica over the past few years has increased prices, but it still will only cost a fraction of what a trip to nearly any city in Europe will cost. Hostel beds for less than $10 are common and eating a good meal at the local sodas (cafes) can cost as little as $2-3.
Whether you want to enjoy surfing on the Pacific or Caribbean, explore a rain forest with monkeys swinging overhead, go white water rafting, kayak mangroves, or peer into a Volcano, you can can do it all in Costa Rica. Spend as little as a week or as long as a year, and you can still manage to not go to the same place twice. This tiny country is a real gem in Central America.
Many people dream of visiting ancient Inca and Mayan ruins in Central America and Peru offers one of the most amazing opportunities to do so.
Machu Picchu is one of the most impressive sights in the world to visit ancient ruins despite it being 8,000 ft above sea level. While this elevation might make it a little more difficult to get to than other places, it still manages to be an extremely popular destination for travelers.
The common practice is to stay in nearby Cuzco for a couple of days to acclimate to the elevation. From there, you can book a multi-day hike and camping trek and enjoy the Inca Trail.
There are many providers for this tour and most provide the supplies you need. You should be aware that the number of visitors to the trail is limited so you should book in advance. I’ve heard as few as three weeks is required, and as long as nine months. Your experience may vary, but definitely plan ahead of time!
Canada is one of my favorite countries in the world. I have been all over the country and enjoy every little bit of it. It may not be as cheap for Americans as it once was, but there are still budget places to stay.
Vancouver is a wonderful city surrounded by the beautiful nature that is British Columbia. Enjoy the city for a couple of days, be sure to check out Stanley Park (Think Central Park but better!), then head up route 99, the Sea to Sky Highway, and stop in Squamish. The self described “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada,” Squamish offers a great place for backpackers to call home for a while. Enjoy the outdoor activities like kayaking, mountain biking and hiking, or use it as an affordable base for Whistler. Located about one hour up the highway, Whistler is one of the best ski resorts in the world and its village provides great shopping and eating choices year round. Hitchiking is safe and popular from Squamish and you won’t be waiting for long before a fellow snowboarder or mountain biker picks you up and gives you a free ride to the mountain. Canadians are so darn friendly!
If you fancy the eastern side of Canada, Quebec is a wonderful place to visit as well. Although a bit pricier, there are several hostels in the Montreal area and English is spoke everywhere. In fact, I dare you to use your high school French and see what happens. They’ll automatically respond in English and you’ll feel a little stupid, but hey, that’s Montreal!
Hop on the train for a lovely three-hour ride to Quebec city and enjoy the more traditional French-Canadian culture. Quebec is a lovely city to simply walk around and go sightseeing. From statues to architecture, Quebec city will easily fill a couple of days and put a few miles on your feet.
There you have it. In no particular order, five great destinations of varying costs and level of adventure.
Do you have a recommendation for a good place beginner travelers should check out? Please share them, or your experiences in the comments below!