When 2020 ended, the world erupted in celebration, as we all thought our living nightmares of restriction, economic downfall, home imprisonment, and fears of death would be wiped out as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve. However, at five months into 2021, we are still waiting for life to regain normality. Yes, we are now able to hug our loved ones and eat and drink in pubs and restaurants, but most of us (if not all of us) are desperately begging for normality and a return to life, before anyone knew the name covid! If you’re in the UK, you would have put away all your voodoo dolls chiseled into Boris Johnson and finally thanked all the Gods for his planned route out of lockdown, which is due to end on June 21st, if all goes to plan, but with the threat of a new Indian variant in the UK possibly delaying normality, perhaps we shouldn’t be too optimistic.
If you are anything like me and my close group of friends, you would have already been ferociously planning all the bottomless brunches that you can as things started to open up in the UK, and THANK GOD, without curfew!! However, what I mostly missed during lockdown was all the holidays that I could have been having. So, one way I have kept my sanity firmly intact all these months, has been by planning the holidays that I’m going to take once life is back to normal (or as close to normal that we can have after covid). So, here are my top five places on my list to visit once the international travel ban has been lifted!
1. Sal, Cape Verde
Cape Verde is one of those places not yet on many people’s radars but boasting all year sun, sea, golden beaches, adventure, culture, and nightlife – this is definitely a place to put high on your travel list! Situated in the beautiful and alluring continent of Africa, it is a cluster of ten islands situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, roughly 350 miles west of Senegal.
One of the most interesting things about Cape Verde is its rich history and if you’re a bit of a history geek like me, it’s history will be calling out to you to engulf it. The Portuguese discovered the islands in 1456 and found that the islands were completely uninhabited by human life. The Portuguese decided to establish the islands for new trade routes and goods, as well as expanding their knowledge on geography since Islamic traders controlled the Trans-Saharan trade of gold and slaves to the north and salt to the south. Due to this, for three centuries, Cape Verde was primarily used as a setting for transatlantic slave trade, exile for Portuguese political prisoners, and a place for refuge for Jews and other victims of religious persecution during the Spanish-Portuguese Inquisition. Due to its historic origins, Cape Verde has influences of African, Portuguese and Brazilian which can be found in the food, music, and fashion.
Interesting fact: Cape Verde is one of the best governed and economically stable countries in Africa. As people continue to learn about Cape Verde and tourism increases, the country is becoming more and more prosperous.
With over ten islands to choose from, you definitely have a decision to make, in regard to which island to visit first. However, if you are a water bunny, the beautiful island of Sal, might be the one for you.
Sal is one of the most popular islands for beach-loving holidaymakers, as it features white golden sands and a turquoise ocean that simply takes your breath away!
The capital of Sal is Espargos, which is situated in the middle of the island, but the main resort is along the south of the island in Santa Maria. It is here that you will find breath-taking golden beaches that follows the coast along the bay and towards the western side of the island.
If you’re anything like me and you like a mix of activities and adventure with your sunbathing and lounging around the pool/beach, you’ll be excited to know that Sal offers its own share of adventure. For all those water bunnies out there, there are lots of opportunities to go snorkelling, diving, windsurfing and kitesurfing. Excursions are two a penny in Sal, but two main activities that stick out for me are floating in a salt lake in Pedra de Lume, which is situated in the north-west of Sal. These salt mines are in the middle of a deep crater, with the water so rich with salt that you can simply lie back and float to the surface, while it gently exfoliates your skin. If wildlife is more your thing, aim to visit Sal between June-October, as every year, endangered loggerhead turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. Not-for-profit organisation, Project Bioadversity, have two hatcheries on the island, and alongside biologists and volunteers, they help and monitor hundreds of nests. When the turtles hatch, they are taken to a nearby beach, released onto the sand, so they can make their way to the sea. You can see the baby turtles, speak to volunteers, and find out more about loggerhead turtles. If you fall completely in love with them, you can even adopt a nest!
2. Montego Bay, Jamaica
Jamaica doesn’t need any kind of introduction as I’m sure it’s one country that is probably on most people’s travel list, and for very good reason! Considered the jewel of the Caribbean, Jamaica promises of breath-taking landscapes, the bluest oceans, unique culture, mouth-watering food, and the friendliest and warmest people that you’ll ever meet. Jamaica has a long history of its pristine beauty and even upon its discovery by Christopher Colombus in 1494, he described Jamaica as being as “the fairest island that eyes have beheld: mountains and the land seem to touch the sky…all full of valleys and fields and plains.”
There are many places to start off exploring in Jamaica but what stands out for me in is the beautiful Montego Bay, which is classed as Jamaica’s most energetic city, as it is a party-town, but also caters for people seeking low-key adventure. Montego Bay is also known for clear-water snorkelling, duty-free shopping, diverse nightlife, and of course, its natural beauty! You’ll find a unique mix of expats and locals who have made Jamaica their home. If you hang out with the locals, you’ll hear Montego Bay be referred to as “Mobay.”
For low-key adventure and to learn and see the “real” Jamaica, take an authentic, half-day excursion to rural Jamaica on the highly-rated “Rastasafari Experience,” which departs from Montego Bay and Negril. You will ride on ATVs to get to the countryside, where you will take in the scenic sights of farms, mountains, rivers, and rainforest, while a tour guide will give you detailed, cultural history of rural Jamaica and give you an insight into how the other side lives. You will make a pit-stop at a natural mineral pool, where you can digest the sights and information you’ve heard and seen and take a swim. This authentic excursion also includes a jungle walk, authentic Jamaican lunch, meeting locals and sampling local fruits and sugar cane, and watching a musical performance.
Don’t stop there though, why not take the gear off for a while and try Bamboo rafting down the Martha Brae river. Let the fully licensed dispatcher take control as they steer you through old plantations, and jungle scenery and all you have to worry about is relaxing and taking in the romantic and breath-taking sights, that the three-mile stretch has to offer. If the mood takes you, once you’re on board of the raft,, you can jump off and take a swim in the pristine river. This one-of-a-kind experience begins at “Rafter’s Village,” which is just 20miles from Montego Bay and is centered in the middle of beautiful, manicured lawns, in a natural horseshoe -shaped island. It’s easy to make the day of it here as it also has picnic grounds, a full-service bar, two souvenir shops, a swimming pool, and restrooms.
3. Venice, Italy
Whisper the word “Italy” and it brings a smile to many people’s faces. It’s definitely a country that needs no introduction, and its rich history dates back thousands of years. However, its history has not always been a pleasant one. Across a span of approximately 3,000 years, Italy’s history has been stained with long periods of being unified with nations and then longs periods of separation, as well as problems between different Italian communities and failed empires. However, Italy has been at peace for more than half a century now, and its citizens enjoy a high standard of living and a highly developed culture.
Italy is situated in south-central Europe, occupying a peninsula which embeds itself within the Mediterranean Sea. It comprises the most varied and scenic landscapes on Earth and some refer it as “the country that is shaped like a boot.” To the north of the country, the Alps separate Italy from France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia; while the Adriatic Sea is to the north-east; the Ionian Sea is to the south-east; the Tyrrhenian Sea to the south-west; and the Ligurian Sea to the north-west. Italy also has the most UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) sites than any other nation in the world and houses over 60% of the works of art in the world!
I could travel the whole of Italy for months at time, but when I really think of what part of Italy that I want to visit first, my heart always pulls to the glamourous and alluring Venice, which is the capital of northern Italy’s Veneto region, famous for its canals, Gothic architecture, and carnival celebrations. What makes Venice alluring is in part that it was built on more than 100 small islands in a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea, and relies on a series of waterways and canals, instead of roads to get from point A to point B.
Venice not only oozes beauty, but also romance, culture and priceless art. Simply being in the city is magical and the uniqueness of the architecture and ancient canals and waterways will take your breath away. It’s a good place to forget about all your responsibilities and bask in the awe and beauty that Venice is. Sightseeing is a definite must and you could spend days going from gondola to gondola, taking in all the cultural sights that Venice has to offer. One to put on the top of your list is Doge’s Palace (“Doge” is sometimes translated to “Duke”), which is the city’s most famous building. Doge’s Palace is the building that represents Venice’s culture, and with Basilica of San Marco (a beautiful church made partly in gold mosaics- a leading tourist attraction) to the back and Piazetta (a public square used for social, religious, and political events) to the front, it forms the most famous sceneries in the world – definitely one not to be missed. Doge’s Palace was built in 1340 in Venetian gothic-style, and for centuries was used for three main purposes: as the Doge’s residence; as the seat of government; and as the palace of justice.
Interesting fact: The Basilica was constructed as a home for the bones of St. Mark the Evangelist, whose remains were stolen from Alexandria, Egypt by two Venetian merchants who smuggled the saint’s bones past Muslim customs officials by stuffing them into a barrel of pork in 828 AD.
The Venice Carnival (Carnevale di Venezia) is one of the most famous carnivals in the world, which attracts tourists from far and wide, to admire beautiful and elaborate costumes and Venetian masks parading the streets and waters. The origins of the carnival dates back thousands of years when the Venetian people came together to celebrate victory over defeating its enemy: the Patriarch or Aquileia, in 1162. Interestingly, the Venice Carnival was outlawed under the rule of Francis II, the Holy Roman Emperor in 1797, as well as the use of masks to conceal their identities. However, from the 19th century, the Venice Carnival was celebrated privately, until 1979, when the Italian Government then decided to help Venice reignite its festival heritage in hopes of “rejuvenating the culture and economy.” It certainly did the trick as the Venice Carnival has grown into the biggest and most popular celebration in the world.
For the Venice Carnival, expect to see a spectacular visual display on the waterways with hundreds of lights lit up on the canals and gondolas; music; a mass of parades of costumes; and Venetian masks. Also expect a number of different events during the carnival, such as: The Festa delle Marie parade – a re-enactment of a traditional Venetian beauty contest judged by a Doge (a modern judge); The Best Mask Contest – as you would expect, wear a mask and the best mask wins a prize; The Flight of the Angel – always occurs in St Mark’s Square every year, and consists of a person flying from a rope from St Mark’s Clocktower. The “angel” is usually the winner of the previous year’s Festa delle Marie competition.
So, when is this amazing Venice Carnival? Well, the carnival’s date changes every year in line with Lent, and Shrove Tuesday always marks the end of the carnival, as the world starts to prepare for Lent and Easter. The duration of the carnival also changes each year dependent on when Lent and Shrove Tuesday is, but could last as long as 17 days on some years. In 2022, the carnival will be held from 19 February – 1st March 2022. For full details on the programme, visit https://www.visit-venice-italy.com/carnival-venice-italy-programme.html
4. New Orleans, USA
The United States of America (USA) is as diverse and scenic as it comes. Depending on what you are looking for, you can take your pick from one of the 52 luscious states.
Bearing in mind that USA is a relative new country (being under 250 years old), it is the most powerful country in the world. USA does, however, have a contradictory history as its citizens celebrate the discovery of their large and prosperous country by Christopher Colombus on 12th October 1492, however research shows he merely introduced USA to Western Europe as the country already had inhabitants.
So, what is my first pick of holiday and adventure in the states? If I let my mind ponder on all the different states and cities, my mind really doesn’t have to ponder for very long. My mind and heart firmly land in the deep south state of Louisiana, and be specifically, the exotic and bustling, yet laid-back city of New Orleans.
The state of Louisiana borders Arkansas State to the north; Mississippi State to the east; and the State of Texas to the west. New Orleans is the biggest city in Louisiana State and is located in the south-east, at the mouth of the Mississippi-Missouri river system, bordered by Lake Pontchartrain to the north and Lake Borgne, a lagoon of the Gulf of Mexico to the east.
New Orleans was founded in 1718 by the French and originally named “La Nouvelle-Orleans.” By 1763, Spain overtook control from the French of New Orleans, which was run by the Spanish until 1801, when they gave New Orleans back to the French. It is for this reason that New Orleans has an eclectic mix of American, African, Caribbean, French, and Spanish influences in the city, which is reflected in the music, food and of course the diversity of languages spoken in the city.
Nicknamed the “Big Easy” for its slow-paced of life, New Orleans caters for all as it is a combination of city life and rural plantations, swap tours, festivals, historical significance, and of course the alluring Mardi Gras.
The history of the Mardi Gras dates back to 2nd March 1699 when French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived 60 miles south of New Orleans and named it “Pointe du Mardi Gras” when his team realised that it was the day before a festive holiday.
The earliest reference to a Mardi Gras Carnival dates back to 1781. By the late 1830s, New Orleans was holding street processions of people in masks on horse and carriages, and horseback riders to celebrate Mardi Gras.
6th of January is the official end of the Christmas season and this starts the Carnival season in New Orleans. The Carnival period is a time to eat, drink and party with friends and family before the fasting period during Lent. It is filled with parades, balls and other celebrations leading up to Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday.” Mardi Gras is always on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Carnival officially ends at midnight on Fat Tuesday and then, Lent begins. Locals, however, do tend to call the season “Carnival” and the last two weekends leading up to Tuesday “Mardi Gras Day.”
Mardi Gras is all about music, picnics, parades, floats, costumes and lots of fun and laughter. Expect to see to see loads of partygoers in costumes in the Mardi Gras colours of purple, green and gold, (which symbolises justice, faith, and power respectively), draped in long beads collected from the floats of previous parades. Next year, Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday 1 March 2022. To find out more, book, and plan your visit: https://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/
5. Dakar, Senegal
The mysterious and alluring country of Senegal is located in West Africa, bordering the Republic of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau to the south, Mali to the east, Mauritania to the north; and it completely encloses the confederated state of The Gambia.
Historically, Senegal has been part of many kingdoms and empires, including the Kingdom of Ghana and Djolof, prior to the 15th century. The Europeans arrived in Senegal in the 16th century. First, was the Dutch who purchased Goree Island in 1627, while the French built a factory on N’Dar, an island that became the old town of Saint-Louis. The French took over Goree Island from the Dutch in 1677, who then made them into slave ports to be shipped to Europe and USA.
In 1959, Senegal joined forces with the French Sudan (Mali) to create the Federation of Mali. One year later, the Federation gained independence from France, but it soon fell apart, resulting in two sovereign nations of Senegal and Mali.
Interesting fact: Senegal has played a prominent role in African politics since its independence. Its presidents have widened Senegal’s diplomatic relationships with other parts of Africa while maintaining close economic, political, and cultural ties to France.
Known as “The Country of Terenga,” in which “terenga” means hospitality in their local tongue of Wolof; you’ll find that walking through the streets of Senegal, the Senegalese are one of the friendliest people in West Africa. Greeted with smiles and laughter everywhere you go, and as you get to know the locals, you’ll be bombarded with steaming local teas and mouth-watering local dishes, which are influenced by the Magherbis (inhabitants of Northern Africa), the French and Portuguese.
To start off exploring this beautiful country, why not start off in the capital city of Dakar, which is a big, bustling city that spreads out on the Cape-Vert peninsular. The intrigue of Dakar comes from the atmosphere and the buzz of the locals. Expect your senses to explode, as you see big, buzzling markets with rich colours from different fabrics; hot, dusty streets filled with chatty and giggling locals; markets filled with people selling an array of objects and materials; and roads congested with traffic. Breathe in the exotic smells of the food as we explore the streets and markets and see musicians and locals singing and dancing to Senegalese pop music on the streets.
If animals are your thing, then a half-day tour to Somone Lagoon and Bandia Park should be high on top of your list. The tour consists of 1.5 hours game drive where you will spot a variety of African wildlife such as, elephants, giraffes, rhinos, buffalos, crocodiles and more. After a local lunch, you will take a boat ride to the Somone Lagoon, where you will watch the animals in the mangrove forest. It’s one definitely not to be missed!
An international trip is not complete without a historical visit, so why not try the peaceful and beautiful Goree Island, which is located just 1.2 miles from Dakar, in which it will take you approximately 20 minutes to get there by ferry from Dakar’s main harbour. Goree Island is approximately 45 acres and is home to approximately 1,600 citizens that live there permanently. There is only 1 hotel on the island, so most tourists opt for a day trip. Upon arrival, you’ll need to pay a small tourist tax of CFA600 (approx. $1) and is the same price for entering the House of Slaves – a must-see building on the island!
Goree island is mostly known for its transatlantic slave trade, made popular by the introduction of Europeans to the country, and the most famous building on the island is the House of Slaves, which was the first stop for over 20 million African enslaved workers. The House of Slaves takes you on an emotional memorial of the brutalisation and suffering of African slaves. Brace yourself as you go through the Door of No Return, where over 15 million enslaved men and women passed through, never to see their loved ones and continent ever again. Expect also to walk through cramped basement cell; see shackles on the walls; chains for slaves necks, hands, and feet; various tools for punishment; and a 17-pound cast iron ball that was chained to any person suspected of daring to escape.
On a more positive note, a go-to for any international trip is a good market, and you’ll definitely be spoilt for choice in Dakar. One market needing a spotlight on it is, Marche Sandaga. It originally started off in a three-storey building, but it has since expanded to its neighbouring streets, boutiques, and side-streets. Your eyes will feast on everything from knock-off designer jeans to flat-screen televisions; to beaded necklaces and printed wax fabrics; with rare books, glass paintings, and fine jewellery, sometimes being tucked away in the deep corners of the market. Marche Sandaga is located in a prime, central location, less than 700 feet from the Place de L’Independence (Dakar’s central square in the middle of the city), therefore, Marche Sandaga is a must for tourists and locals alike, but beware of pick pocketers, hustlers, high prices and scam artists, so make sure you are super vigilant and sharpen your bargaining skills before you go!