2017 was a BIG YEAR for Sapphire & Elm Travel Co. since we launched our travel business custom planning one-of-a-kind vacations for adventurous and busy people like you.
We also got to do a lot of traveling ourselves, since we believe the BEST travel agents are the ones who have personal experience.
Every time we go to a country we are actively doing research to ensure we provide our clients with the most complete, up-to-date and relevant information about which cities are a best fit for them, how long to stay, what transportation is like, what neighborhoods/areas of the city offer what, and so much more!
It was extremely hard to limit our favorite travel experiences and memories from 2017 because we have been traveling a lot, in fact, Stephanie explored 19 countries this year! And Carly also saw an impressive 4 countries!
We tried our best to put together an objective and relatable list of our favorites from this past year. Read on for some incredible travel inspiration!
1. Hiking Tayrona National Park, Colombia
For 2.5-3 precious hours (one way), you can hike your way from the entrance of Tayrona National Park on the Caribbean coast of Colombia with spectacular jungle and ocean views the entire way. You'll see lush mountains, turquoise Caribbean waters, horses roaming, indigenous peoples and more along the way.
Make sure to grab a fresh coconut to drink and hydrate yourself, then stick around to have the Kogi (indigenous persons) open up the coconut with their machete for the coconut meat inside. Not a fan of coconuts? There's also fresh squeezed juices or ice cream along the way as well.
At the end of the coastal hike you'll arrive as San Juan del Cabo where you can spend the night in a hammock or tent. Arrive before noon for the best chances to grab a coveted hammock in "El Mirador"! Or you can choose to stay at another part of the park in a hotel or eco-village.
2. Canyoneering in Akchour, Morocco
Possibly the biggest surprise I've had in a while. You can imagine my absolute shock when some friends and I decide to go on a hike outside of Chefchaouen (the Blue City) and discover that the hike is accompanied by a forest of trees through a refreshingly icy river! This was Morocco, wasn't it supposed to be dirt and desert? More on canyoneering in Akchour, Morocco.
3. Spiritual Growth in Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
I am so fond of Guatemala, particularly the tiny town of San Marcos on the volcanic Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. I was meant to be in this small town for a few days of swimming and yoga, however the "few days" quickly turned into a month. In total I spent nine weeks exploring Guatemala, and felt at home every minute especially in San Marcos which stole my heart.
There are 11 towns along Lake Atitlán all which "cater" to a different type of traveler, including; San Pedro the backpacker town, here you'll find lots of young backpackers looking for a good time.
Panahachel (Pana) is the primary tourist town for it's large amount of American (U.S.) and European ex-pats, and that it's the town that connects to the buses. From there you'll take a lancha "small boat" to other lakeside towns.
Santa Cruz is a quieter ex-pat town with stunning volcano views. It has the only PADI certified diving center in Lake Atitlán.
San Juan is home to many weaving centers and is perhaps the most artistic part of the lake. You can even take weaving classes here. I highly recommend buying a blanket or poncho here directly from the Mayan women as a souvenir!
San Marcos is the hippie town, and is where I stayed. It's reputation of yoga doing, green smoothie drinking hippies is what attracted me initially to the town. I stayed for the incredible amounts of spiritual activities such as meditations, sound baths, cacao ceremonies, Kirtan yoga, acro yoga, Reiki, and so many more. More on the many activities in San Marcos, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala.
4. The Fjords of Norway
On my trip to Norway I was lucky enough to experience several different fjords including Sognefjorden (the second longest fjord in the world), Lysefjorden to hike Preikestolen aka Pulpit Rock, and a road trip to the very famous Geirangerfjord. Norway is an incredibly beautiful and magical place, every inch of it a pure delight for your eyes. In fact, because of an unexpected detour our 10 hour drive one day turned into about 15 hours but every minute of it was a pleasure to look at! Thank goodness for the midnight sunset so we could keep preoccupied looking at the stunning surroundings.
5. Wine Tasting in Bordeaux
Wine tasting in Bordeaux is something I've dreamed about since I was very young (weird, since it's alcohol related), but the clout that French wine has, especially in Bordeaux has never been lost on me. This desire to see the region and taste the wine for myself was compounded when I lived in France for 6 months and still didn't visit. It was a dream come true to sip wine in centuries old Chateaux. More on wine tasting in Bordeaux.
6. Lounging on the Beaches of Byron Bay, Australia
I love beach vacations and getting to lounge on the beaches of Australia was a dream come true. Byron Bay is know for it's abundance of pristine beaches and I got to check out a new beach each day. Not to mention Byron Bay has great hiking, shopping and restaurants.
7. Wine Tasting in Croatia
While wine tasting in Bordeaux is iconic, wine tasting in Croatia was one of the loveliest surprises. I wasn't aware how good Croatian wine is before my second trip to this country in the summer of 2017, however I went wine tasting every other day my first week there exploring the wine regions of Korčula and Pelješac, and then the incredible opportunity for a food and wine tour of a vineyard over 2,000 years old on the stunning island of Hvar.
8. Discovering Semuc Champey, Guatemala
Semuc Champey is a river with tiered pools, tied together with natural waterslides located just outside of the town of Lanquin. To get here from town, you need to take a jeep "collectivo" in which you’ll stand up for the duration of the ride, hanging onto the bars of the vehicle. The whole 30 minute ride to the river I felt like I was in a real, authentic and better version of the Indian Jones Disneyland ride! At the river, I spent all day hiking to the river (with these views pictured above), swimming in the waters, exploring a cave by candlelight and floating down the river with a beer in hand.
9. Spanish School in Medellín, Colombia
This year I decided to take a few weeks to study at a Spanish School in Medellín. After traveling through Central America and being surrounded by the language I decided it was time for me to at least be conversational! Like so many other Americans have, I studied a language (French) for many years in high school and college, yet still I could barely speak the language and it's all lost now since it's been far too many years without using it at all. So this is my attempt to finally join the rest of the world in the ability to speak a second language! It was such a cool experience to be with others in a new, fascinating city with a common goal of speaking the local language. Every time I am able to have a meaningful conversation with a local I am filled with so much joy!
10. Exploring ATM Cave, Belize
The Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave in Belize provides it's visitors with a unique opportunity to step into a place of history, sacrifice and tradition for the Mayan culture. Getting to the cave is an adventure; swimming through rivers, spelunking the cave and then by head torch making your way through many cave systems to see skeletal remains that tell the tales of Mayan life centuries ago. It's a surreal experience being so close to human remains in this way. More on the ATM Cave, Belize.
11. Zip Lining in Monteverde, Costa Rica
In April, after just over 3 months of traveling Central America, my family met me in Costa Rica for some family fun. We decided to go zip lining through the stunning jungle canopy of Monteverde. It was an absolute blast for everyone, and at times terrifying with the Tarzan swing and Superman zip line! More on zip lining in Monteverde, Costa Rica.
12. Swimming with Flamingos in Aruba
Flamingos are one of my favorite animals so when I found out there was a beach in Aruba that had flamingos roaming freely I was dying to check it out. A dear friend had a destination wedding in Aruba so I had the opportunity to check out Renaissance Island. Laying on the beach relaxing is a great way to spend a vacation but getting to do it with flamingos lounging around the beach was magical.
13. Beach Hopping in Milos, Greece
When in Europe, there are a few places that are a must for me - France, Croatia, Amsterdam, and Greece. This summer I was really lucky to be able to visit a good friend whose half Greek - love traveling with locals! After we road tripped Crete together, we took a ferry to Milos, an island in the Cyclades (the isles famous for Santorini and Mykonos). We decided to explore Milos since we’d both been to Santorini and Mykonos and we are both always dying to discover new places. As soon as we arrived on the island, we rented an ATV to see the island and within the first 2 days had seen some of the most beautiful beaches including Firiplaka (a pink volcanic beach) and the ever charming Mandrakia.
14. Sailing the Islands of Belize
From the relaxed and charming island of Caye Caulker, I embarked on three days of sailing the islands of Belize south to Dangriga. For three days, we swam, snorkeled, spearfished, ate fresh caught lobster, slept under the stars (with zero light pollution!). More on sailing the islands of Belize.
15. Thermal Baths in Budapest
Centuries old traditions of Turkish baths meets a much needed rest soaking in hot and healing thermal waters in the historic city of Budapest. It was my first time in Budapest, and after hearing from so many people how incredible the city was I was determined to visit during my European summer. There is no shortage of baths in Budapest, each offering something a bit different. More on thermal baths in Budapest.
16. Beaches of Bocas del Toro, Panama
I’ve seen some beautiful beaches in my life in California, Hawaii and Florida, but very, very few compare to the beaches in Bocas del Toro for their fine white sand and clear turquoise waters, especially Isla Zapatilla pictured below. See more of the beautiful beaches of Bocas del Toro, Panama.
17. Cigar Smoking in Viñales, Cuba
I started 2017 with a trip to Cuba. It was a bucket list destination for me and it was surreal walking the streets of Havana. Hands down the best part of the trip was going to Viñales Valley. It's home to acres of tobacco farms and we got the opportunity to sit with a Cuban farmer and learn about the process. And we got to smoke some too!
18. Being Pampered in Marrakesh
After a few weeks traveling through Morocco's vastly different terrains (desert, cities and mountains) doing lots of hiking, canyoneering, camel rides, long bus rides and shopping through bustling medinas I was excited to have a little R&R.
In Marrakech I was greeted by the most lovely and accommodation staff of Riad Mena & Beyond. No detail was spared at this tranquil riad from the worldly decor to it's delicious homemade meals prepared with so much care to it's kind staff who truly went over and above with every question or comment we had.
Then I had a very authentic, unique experience getting a hammam in a public bathhouse. My skin has never felt so soft, clean and revitalized! Read more about how to hammam in Morocco.
19. Birthday Trip to San Francisco, CA
I am so often wrapped up in planning overseas trips that I forget what wonderful destinations the Unites States has to offer. I take for granted that San Fransisco is a top travel destination and only an 1.5 hour flight. I also have a ton a friends from college that live in the city so it was a perfect way to spend my birthday. I got the true local experience.
20. Cruising Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana
People found it shocking that I had never been to New Orleans. Again, I often forget the amazing destination here at home in the United States. I celebrated a friends' birthday in New Orleans and got to experience what Bourbon Street is all about. I also ate my way through the Garden District!
At Sapphire & Elm Travel Co. we pride ourselves and our travel planning abilities on our extensive personal travel knowledge. Contact us to plan your one-of-a-kind vacation.
More Travel Inspiration for 2018:
Stephanie's Top 10 Travel Bucket List Destinations