Travel's Best for 2015
Cuba, volcano boarding, the Pacific Crest Trail and a total solar eclipse — they’re all reasons to pack your bags in 2015. See what destinations and travel trends are getting our attention.
Best Country to Keep Watch On: CubaAirlines, hotel chains, cruise companies and US travelers alike are all hopeful for an official removal of the travel ban on Cuba after President Obama’s announcement of plans to re-establish diplomatic ties with the Caribbean country. With the possibility of this once-difficult-to-visit destination’s rigid travel restrictions easing up, our dreams of mojito-fueled nights of salsa dancing in colorful, classic-car-lined streets will be that much easier to attain. 960 1280
Best Meal-to-Go: BeefsteakMove over, bacon: Veggies are getting the celeb-chef treatment this year. Chef José Andrés is taking on the trend of fast-casual restaurants and opening a vegetable-focused chain in early 2015. It’s called Beefsteak (named after a type of tomato, for those who don’t know) and will serve up healthy food, fast. While steering away from calling it a vegetarian restaurant, Andrés wants merely to make meat the side dish for once and celebrate the unsung power of vegetables while bringing wholesome food to the masses. 960 1280
Best Under-the-Radar Destination: GuatemalaWhile other Latin America countries have been more on the radar for travelers — especially Mexico and Costa Rica — Guatemala hasn’t received the tourism spotlight it deserves. With 33 volcanoes, a World Heritage Site in the city of Antigua, Mayan ruins, and the mystical volcano-ringed Lake Atitlán, Guatemala is brimming with intriguing history, colonial grandeur and outdoor adventures that will keep every type of traveler intrigued. Take in the breath-taking beauty of Guatemala at Casa Palopo, a boutique hotel with panoramic views of Lake Atitlán and 3 majestic volcanoes across the shore. 960 1280
Best Reason to Take a Cruise: Total Solar EclipseThink all cruises are the same? How about a cruise to see a rare eclipse? A total solar eclipse on March 20, 2015, will be visible from the remote Faroe Islands, between Norway and Iceland. Several companies are offering cruises to witness this rare event, which will not happen again until 2026 and, if you’re lucky, could include another awe-inspiring show from Mother Nature — the northern lights. With pricey tickets selling out for a phenomenon that lasts no more than 2 minutes, 47 seconds, we imagine there will be many prayers made for a clear day. 960 1280
Best Extreme Sport: Volcano BoardingWith new luxury eco-resorts cropping up, Nicaragua seems to be on every travel list for 2015. There’s 1 extreme sport in particular here that’s catching our attention: volcano boarding. Racing down an active volcano at speeds of up to 30 mph on a wooden sled — sounds like a life highlight, right? That is, if you don’t fall. Adventure junkies should proceed with caution and wear protective gear, because you don’t want to get cut by volcanic ash on a tumble. 960 1280
Best Outdoor Adventure: Hike the Pacific Crest TrailHollywood isn’t the only one trying to re-create Cheryl Strayed’s Wild journey; throngs of fans inspired by the best-selling author’s 1,100-mile solo trek are hitting the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the country’s longest and wildest thru-hikes, in record numbers. With the film adaption of <i>Wild</i>, we expect 2015 to usher in even more rookie hikers on the PCT. Embracing the growing interest, the Pacific Crest Trail is sharing fans’ stories and even Strayed’s exact route, so you can follow in the author’s footsteps. We suggest wearing better-fitting boots, though. 960 1280
Best Reimagined Destination: HaitiA Caribbean island nation with a vibrant Creole culture and stunning beaches, Haiti was a hot travel destination back in the 1970s, when the Clintons even honeymooned there. Now, 5 years after the devastating earthquake that shook the country, curious travelers and sustainable travel companies are trying to put this often-overlooked and feared destination back on the tourism map. Using local suppliers in an effort to keep money in the country, G Adventures is one of the pioneering companies that firmly believes tourism can be a force for good in Haiti — and it’s launching 5 Haiti trips in 2015 to prove it. 960 1280
Best US Comeback City: New OrleansMarking the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in 2015, New Orleans is celebrating its resiliant nature and welcoming travelers more than ever as it looks forward to its tricentennial in 2018. So if you haven’t been to Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest or eaten your way through the city, overindulging in beignets and shrimp po’boys, don’t go another year without visiting America’s comeback city. 960 1280
Best Travel Gadget: Apple WatchWith the highly anticipated Apple Watch going on sale in 2015, the travel world is gearing up to support wearable technology. A watch that doubles as a smartphone is the latest advance that will make it easier to plan and manage travel. Hotels, airlines and travel companies are now offering smartwatch apps that let you check in, book flights and download boarding passes … all from your wristwatch. With a hands-free device, it’s that much easier to score fleeting travel deals on the go, too. 960 1280
Best Travel App/Website: EatWith.comWith the rising success of peer-to-peer websites such as Airbnb, start-ups are popping up using similar concepts but connecting travelers to foodies around the world. One of our favorites, EatWith.com, connects hosts who love to cook with travelers who want a taste of local cuisine. From a 9-course meal on a family farm in Florence, Italy, to sampling typical Peruvian dishes in the Andes Mountains, what could be a better way to experience a destination than to connect with locals over a homemade meal? 960 1280
Best Destination Wedding Spot: Florence, ItalyWith some of the world’s biggest celebrities — including most eligible bachelor George Clooney and internet-breaking Kim Kardashian — tying the knot in Italy in 2014, brides-to-be are imagining their own Italian fairy-tale weddings. Feel like a superstar yourself by saying your “I do’s” at the luxury hotel Il Salviatino, an exquisitely restored, 15th-century villa perched on the hillside of Fiesole with sweeping views of Florence and the rolling Tuscan countryside. Even if your groom isn’t George Clooney, you couldn’t have dreamed of a more romantic wedding destination. 960 1280
Out-of-This-World Views: The Lasso, SD, to Devil’s Tower, WYTV host Don Wildman chose the 110-mile loop from Rapid City, SD, to Devil’s Tower, WY, as one of the country's best road trips. While Wildman was brave enough to cover the Badlands during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, he says it’s just as memorable to travel by car, since either way you’ll drive through deep forests and thrilling mountain vistas. If you’re not brave enough to ride a Harley like Wildman, you can at least follow in his footsteps and stop at the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum in South Dakota.
"Maybe you’ll even have a close encounter to write home about,” adds Wildman; Devil’s Tower is the site where the iconic alien landing scene was filmed in the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 960 1280
Off-Road Adventure: Salar de Uyuni, BoliviaFor the intrepid road tripper, Bolivia offers off-road adventures across otherworldly landscapes. “The world’s largest salt flat, Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is a surefire, natural amazement,” says Don Wildman, host of Mysteries at the Museum. After a short flight south from La Paz, Bolivia, a number of skilled tour companies will house you in a hotel constructed entirely of salt and then drive you out to experience extraordinary visuals not to be missed in this life, adds Wildman.
While the salt flats are the smoothest “road” you’re likely to drive on, keep in mind you’re at an altitude of 12,500 feet, so take measures to prevent altitude sickness. 960 1280
Unexpected Fall Foliage: Glacier National Park, MontanaOne of the most iconic drives in the country, Montana's “Going to the Sun Road,” is a true bucket list drive not to be missed, says RoadTrippers.com CEO and founder James Fisher. The road spans a breathtaking 50 miles of Glacier National Park's most beautiful twists and turns. Considered an engineering marvel, the road was completed in the fall of 1932, after workers blew through half a million pounds of explosives for its construction.
Jackson Glacier Overlook, between Logan Pass and St. Mary offers the park's best views of a glacier from the road. And while Montana might not be the first place that comes to mind for viewing fall foliage, we suggest taking a drive here in autumn to witness the dazzling color show. 960 1280
Castles, Caves and Cheese: Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, EnglandIt’s no surprise that Fisher, born and raised in the English countryside, also picks a road trip in the United Kingdom. It all starts at a castle, says Fisher: Tintagel Castle, located high atop the rugged coast of Cornwall. Fisher advises then taking the scenic route to Bath, past the fishing village of Boscastle, which dates back to the 1500s. The gorge itself is one of England's most interesting areas, a land of witches, caves and waterfalls.
Fisher adds, “But most importantly it is home to the original, cave-matured, cheddar cheese.” See the cheese being made by the town’s only remaining cheesemakers at Cheddar Gorge Cheese Factory, followed by free tastings of the town’s namesake. 960 1280
Mountains and Mining Towns: The San Juan Skyway, ColoradoNicknamed the "Road to the Sky," the San Juan Skyway loops through the heart of southern Colorado's towering San Juan Mountains and is a "must-do" for road tripping fans, says filmmaker, photographer and road tripper, Allison Otto. The Skyway passes through old Colorado mining towns like Ouray, Telluride, and Silverton, climbs to an elevation of more than 14,000 feet and circles down to the ancient cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park.
“The views are dazzling, especially in the late summer/early fall, but be careful along the cliffside-clinging stretch known as the ‘The Million Dollar Highway,’ where there are parts of the road that lack guardrails," adds Otto. 960 1280
Adventure South of the Border: Creel to Batopilas, MexicoSkip the touristy beaches of Mexico and take an adventurous road trip instead. Otto suggests driving from the Mexican town of Creel to Batopilas: “This is an amazing white-knuckle, eye-popping drive to the base of Mexico's Copper Canyon, which is actually a series of 20 canyons formed over the years by 6 rivers,” says Otto. The narrow, mostly dirt road begins in Creel, which has a frontier feel, and ends in Batopilas, a sleepy old silver mining town at the base of the canyon.
There are no guardrails on this route and drivers can expect to weave through a few cattle, donkeys and goats along the way. “The views are truly breathtaking, though, and Batopilas, which was founded around 1632, is definitely worth a visit and a perfect base for day hikes in the canyon,” adds Otto. 960 1280
Beaches and Leaf Peeping: Michigan's Gold Coast“Leaves, lighthouses, and sugary beaches! New England? Nope: Michigan!” reveals Robert Firpo-Cappiello, executive editor of BudgetTravel.com. Treat yourself to a 3-day autumn road trip starting in Grand Rapids, MI, where you can soak up serious art, public gardens and craft beer, suggests Firpo-Cappiello. Drive along the “Gold Coast” highway west to the jaw-dropping shoreline of Lake Michigan. “From Grand Haven down to Saugatuck and on to South Haven, you'll have a great weekend and bring home bragging rights for having 'discovered' some of the finest beaches, highest dunes and freshest seafood in America,” says Firpo-Cappiello.
Take a break from driving and ride on Saugatuck’s ferry to Oval Beach, the only remaining chain-driven ferry in the United States. 960 1280
The European Tour: France to Italy to SwitzerlandSkip the train, and travel at your own speed on a road trip through Europe’s charming lakeside towns. Start your journey along the banks of Lake Annecy that sits under the French Alps’ Mount Blanc, advises travel writer and TV personality, Kim Mance. “You’ll cross many picturesque canal bridges as you drive toward Italy, with countless castles on hilltops,” says Mance.
After you stop for an Italian fondue lunch (yes, that exists!), Mance suggests you head back north toward Switzerland’s tiny villages, which dot the mountainside. From here, make your way to the stunningly beautiful Belle Époque city of Montreux, Switzerland on the shore of Lake Geneva. The entire drive from Annecy to Montreux can be done in about 4 hours, but Mance suggests taking a week. 960 1280
Tour of the Island: Oahu, HawaiiThe best way to explore the island of Oahu? By car, preferably a Mustang convertible to be exact, says Kathleen Rellihan, interactive producer for TravelChannel.com. Escape Honolulu’s crowds and explore the hidden gems on Oahu, from the Halona Blowhole to Lanikai Beach (often ranked as one of the world’s best beaches) and Tropical Farms’ Macadamia Nut Farm.
Plan to stay at least a night on Oahu’s famed North Shore , a relaxed surf mecca that’s home to Pipeline, a world famous surf break, and beach-basking sea turtles. “Don’t miss the garlic shrimp trucks along Kamehameha Highway and stop at Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach to watch big wave surfers and incredible sunsets,” adds Rellihan. 960 1280
Seaside Foodventure: Puglia, ItalyIf you’re looking for a road trip off the beaten track with plenty of unforgettable food stops, look no further than Italy’s Puglia region. With over 250 miles of ancient olive groves, charming fishing villages and glistening Adriatic coastline, Puglia “the heel on Italy’s boot,” is less tourist trodden than other regions in Italy and best explored on a slow-paced road trip, says Rellihan.
As you drive along the coast of Puglia, steering clear of cattle and steep rocky drops, stop at cliffside wonders like Vieste’s fortified whitewashed castle and Bari’s Grotta Palazzese, one of the many restaurants nestled inside ancient caves perched over the blue-green Adriatic Sea. 960 1280
ScareHouse (Pittsburgh, PA)ScareHouse is the place to be this year, especially because it has an exclusive partnership with Legendary Entertainment to help create the scariest Halloween to date. Featured attractions include The Summoning, Pittsburgh Zombies: Black Out and The Basement. This Halloween haunt offers a big-budget sensibility without losing its hometown appeal. “ScareHouse is my pick because sociologist and ‘fear expert’ Margee Kerr is always on staff to research and develop new ways to truly disturb visitors,” says geek culture and paranormal pop-culture expert Aaron Sagers. 960 1280
Fright Dome (Las Vegas, NV)Located in Circus Circus’ Adventuredome, the Fright Dome is one of Las Vegas’ largest and longest-running Halloween attractions. With 6 new haunted houses, the theme park is transformed into a pitch-black, lights-out, haunted spectacle – easily making it the scariest on the Strip. The 5-acre theme park also includes 25 rides and attractions, multiple live shows at night and 4 new scare zones, including the Clown Overload Zone. “My personal nightmare of clowns with glowing eyes surrounding me came to life,” says Zak Bagans, lead investigator of Ghost Adventures. “I had the worst panic attack. Needless to say, I’ll go back again, because it was badass!” 960 1280
Netherworld (Atlanta, GA)With more than 200 animated monsters and 100 live actors, Netherworld is one of the nation’s most famous attractions. Having been featured on TV and in movies such as Zombieland, this spooky attraction has amazingly detailed sets. “And unlike other Halloween attractions, Netherworld’s creepy characters greet patrons in the parking lot before they purchase tickets, scaring them off before they even enter,” says Larry Kirchner, owner of HauntWorld.com and Halloween Productions. 960 1280
The 13th Gate (Baton Rouge, LA)The 13th Gate is one of the most, if not the most, elaborately detailed haunted houses in America, thanks to a construction crew that includes award-winning set designers, lighting and sound technicians, and special-effects artists. Sets are over-the-top and feature live animals, including snakes and gators. In each of the 13 themed indoor and outdoor areas, more than 100 professional actors and 12 special makeup artists help bring the horror to life. “Hollywood production companies have rented the attraction multiple times to film movies such as The Reaping,” says HauntWorld Magazine owner Larry Kirchner. “The 13th Gate is, without any doubt, one of the best haunted houses in America.” 960 1280
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum Haunted House (Weston, WV)The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is one of the most memorable haunted locations for Ghost Adventures lead investigator Zak Bagans, who completed a live 7-hour investigation with the Ghost Adventures crew. The spirits that roam the asylum’s halls are extremely active, and tours are offered to see how the mentally insane lived and died within these walls. “It is undeniably the scariest overall haunted attraction that I’ve been to in the US, outside of the Fright Dome,” Zak says. Additionally, visitors can participate in zombie paintball, a fall festival and the Asylum Ball, which includes a costume contest. 960 1280
13th Floor Haunted HouseThe 13th Floor Haunted House is the largest and longest indoor haunted attraction in Colorado. It was renovated this year with 2 new attractions. “Watch evil take control of unwilling bodies in Undead: The Possession, or run for your life as terrifying ghouls and monsters come alive as you walk through Dwellings of the Dead,” says TravelChannel.com video project manager Arthur Hsu. Equipped with state-of-the-art technology such as Microsoft Kinect, the robotic monsters are more than capable of frightening the victims who dare to venture into the 13th Floor. 960 1280
Bennett’s Curse (Jessup, MD)This haunted spectacle outside Baltimore is one of the top Halloween attractions in the mid-Atlantic region. It features 3 terrifying haunted houses — Medieval Underworld, Inferno 3D and Sanctuary of Insanity — and the owners of this popular haunt continue to add monsters and twists to keep the attractions exciting for new and returning visitors. Arthur Hsu says, “Not only has Bennett’s Curse been featured on Travel Channel’s America’s Scariest Halloween Attractions 3, but it has consistently been ranked by several sources as one of the best Halloween attractions in the US.” This spooky spot is also among the first to frighten its victims with the latest cutting-edge technology. 960 1280
Halloween Horror Nights (Orlando, FL)Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando should be at the top of anyone’s Halloween bucket list, especially fans looking for big-budget scares. Aaron Sagers says, “Movie industry experts craft haunted houses so loaded with detail that visitors walk through and feel like they’ve been dropped into an episode of The Walking Dead or the movie From Dusk Till Dawn.” Other popular attractions featured at the theme park include Bayou of Blood, Dollhouse of the Damned and Roanoke – Cannibal Colony. Those willing to face their fears can also enter, at their own risk, the Halloween house for a face-to-face meeting with Michael Myers, the iconic masked slasher from the movies. 960 1280
Festival of the Dead (Salem, MA)Salem, MA, is historically known for the 1692 Witch trials that left 20 people executed. This year’s Festival of the Dead includes 2 weeks of events and parties designed to bring out your inner Witch. Attend a séance to speak with the dead, share your stories with others at the Mourning Tea, pick up new ghost-hunting techniques or learn about death’s macabre customs and strange rituals. Finish the festival with the Official Salem Witches’ Ball on Oct. 31, and you’ll leave this town spellbound. Author, TV personality and paranormal expert Jeff Belanger says, “This town will cast a spell on you.” 960 1280
Queen Mary (Long Beach, CA)The Queen Mary was built in the early 1930s as a luxury trans-Atlantic ocean liner, but it was pressed into military service to carry troops during World War II, when hundreds died in and around the ship. This Halloween, the haunted ship is offering its Dark Harbor tours with 4 new attractions: the Soulmate maze, the B340 maze, Voodoo Village and Monster Midway, which features a freak show, a mechanical monster and a new ride, the Sinister Swings. “Keep your eyes open, because those ghostly apparitions you see may not just be another special effect,” says Jeff Belanger. And before you go, make sure you check out the Ghost Adventures’ lockdown and investigation of the Queen Mary. 960 1280
Fan Favorite: Waverly Hills Sanatorium (Louisville, KY)We asked and the majority of the people who responded on Twitter and Facebook told us that Waverly Hills Sanatorium, in Louisville, KY, should be the fan favorite pic for Travel’s Best Halloween Attractions 2014. Built in 1908, the original building was designed to accommodate up to 50 tuberculosis patients. Today, it’s the site for paranormal investigations, tours and creepy sightings. Add it to your must-see spooky spots on Halloween. 960 1280
Moab, UtahHome to both Dead Horse State Park and Arches National Park, the resort-like town of Moab offers some of the most stunning red-rock scenery you’ll ever experience, says Anna Vawser of blog, The Legendary Adventures of Anna. Whether you’re a novice outdoorsman or seasoned explorer, there’s no shortage of exciting adventures to be had, including mountain biking, hiking and 4-wheeling. Vawser recommends “rock climbing among the gorgeous cliffs, touring the Hell’s Revenge Jeep Trail and whitewater rafting down the grand Colorado River.” 960 1280
Black Hills, DakotasWant remote, rugged beauty with a heaping helping of Americana? Then head directly to the western Dakotas. “Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorials are some of the largest mountain carvings ever, a testament to the United States’ ‘bigger is better’ motto,” says the Martin family of thatTripUSA.com. “Awesome day trips include the historic Wall Drug Store (a rustic mall for weary travelers), Minuteman Missile National Historic Site (an underground, nuclear-themed throwback to America’s Cold War) and the Enchanted Highway (home to rest stops decorated with a bunch of world-record sized scrap metal sculptures).” While you’re there, visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park, one of the Martins' favorites, for a chance to be surrounded by herds of buffalo, chattering cities of prairie dogs, deer, and herds of wild horses. 960 1280
Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaRemember what absolute silence sounds like? Most days, neither do we. That’s when we escape into the Mojave Desert to Joshua Tree National Park, a treasure trove of its namesake Joshua trees and rock formations like Skull and Arch Rock. Kinga Philipps, our resident National Parks expert, suggests “spending days bouldering among Martian-looking landscapes, exploring the palm-fringed oases, watching [fiery] sunsets and experiencing silence so golden that you can hear the rush of air through a bird’s feathers as it flies overhead.” 960 1280
Crater Lake National Park, OregonYou can comb the states over and not come across a body of water more mind-blowingly beautiful than Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon. “The lake is the purest shade of blue, surrounded by striking, 2,000-foot cliffs,” Vawser says. Formed in a dormant volcano’s crater, the magnificent blue lake is entirely filled from direct precipitation of rain or snow – the crater receives an average 44 feet of snow a year! “You can make your way down the Cleetwood Trail for a swim, try your hand at fishing, or have a relaxing picnic while enjoying the view,” says Vawser. Just don’t put off your summertime visit – Crater Lake’s first snowfall is often in September. 960 1280
Nantucket Island, MassachusettsJust off the coast of Cape Cod, MA, Nantucket is full of New England charm, great restaurants, eclectic shops and truly stunning beaches – making it a summer island paradise. The Grey Lady [nicknamed for its mystical fog and weathered grey-shingled houses] educates and delights, says Travel Channel host Don Wildman. “The Whaling Museum provides the sea legs for future readers of Moby Dick and Great Point Lighthouse is a family expedition for the books.” 960 1280
Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaPittsburgh in the summer? Hear us out on this one. Home to more than 39 colleges and universities, Pittsburgh is bubbling over with young people helping to redefine the city. Steel City has even become an arts destination thanks to institutions such as the iconic Andy Warhol Museum, as well as the Mattress Factory, a contemporary art museum with room-sized installations spread throughout a 4-story warehouse. “It’s not only one of the hippest cities in America, but also it’s located in the great expanse of western Pennsylvania,” Wildman says. “Spend the day in town at the Carnegie Museums, then head south to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater to see an architectural wonder or to Ohiopyle State Park for thrilling whitewater.” 960 1280
Everglades National Park, Florida<a href="http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/road-trips/articles/everglades-national-park-florida">Florida’s Everglades National Park</a> has one of the most unique ecosystems in the US, a subtropical paradise of plants, birds and rare wildlife -- even manatees. But don’t just take our word for it. “Take an airboat tour and keep your eyes peeled for alligators and crocodiles – it’s the only place in the world where they coexist,” says Philipps. The Everglades offers an array of activities, from fishing, camping and hiking to biking, kayaking and canoeing. Explore the tropical mangrove forests and miles of sawgrass, says Philipps. “Just don’t forget the bug spray.”