For many people, vacation equates to fine dining in distant places. For others, travel means zip-lining adventures through the cloud forest. But for snap-happy trekkers, the ideal vacation is simply a destination made for photography. After fourteen months on the road, Neil and I have explored both South America and Europe updating our Photo Friday feature. We keep finding the little nooks in the world where no photographer could shoot a bad image. Here are my top picks on photo safari vacations for lens-packing travelers.
Ring Road in Iceland
I know most people will say that the Golden Circle is the most picturesque place in Iceland. But trust me, rent a car and drive into the Icelandic countryside. In summer, nature is green, ewes cuddle up with their kids, and the glaciers are visible from the shoreline. Neil and I only visited the southern route from Reykjavik to Vik but we were amazed at how many times we had to stop for black horses jousting, cascading waterfalls, and white fog rolling over stone karsts. In July at the height of summer, we booked our car (automatic transmission) last minute and in the town’s center at the trip information office where the best deals can be had.
Salars de Uyuni, Bolivia
Disclaimer: Bolivia is not for everyone. Out by the salt flats near Uyuni, there are no 4-star hotels (yet). Electricity is run (intermittently) by generators and altitude is a factor. But Bolivia is probably one of the most special places that I have ever visited in my life. That’s saying a lot. My family is from Thailand and we corner the market on beautiful “superlatives.” If you visit the southwest circuit of Bolivia, prepare yourself for red lakes, pink flamingos, white mist, and black nights dimpled with stars. Also be prepared for communal showers, dirty clothes, and breakfast from the trunk of a 4WD. It’s brilliant!
Ruins of Sukhothai in Thailand
In terms of ancient cities in Thailand, Sukhothai is one of my favorites. Truck loads of visitors go to the ruins at Ayutthaya because it’s close to the capital and accommodation is easy to secure. But come on! Venture father north and snap some shots in Sukhothai. In the off-season, all you need is a bike and camera. You’ll have sunset shots of giant Buddha statues and defense walls. You’ll be able to walk around the property where green grass grows short and stray dogs roam the wide boulevards.
Galapagos Islands in Ecuador
The father of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin had it right! The Galapagos Islands is a place unlike any other. Straddling the equator, the archipelago hosts both the roots and destiny of life on our planet. Species here are unique to all others. Bird watchers with super zoom lenses will be in heaven while little kids will gasp about how close they can step near black iguanas or swim with penguins. Underwater cameras sit at the top of the list of what to bring to the Galapagos Islands. While many budget and daytrip options are available, especially in September’s low season, we explored the national park aboard the luxe MV Evolution.
Florence of Italy
Love it or leave it, Italy attracts millions of visitors in their summer season for good reason. Italy is home to art, culture, food, and history. You could spend 5 days straight in museums and not broach the subject of art appreciation. For the most variety of all these highlights, head to Florence, the seat of power for the Medici Family. With a high capacity memory card and a few extra batteries, you’ll photograph sculptures, fountains, horse rings in the side of buildings. And once the urban avenues have exhausted you, take the train beyond the buses and to the fields. Outside of the city, the Tuscan countryside waits with vineyards, olive groves, and great medieval towns like Lucca where Neil and I stayed with two friends at the cute B&B Mimosa.
Jelsa on the Coast of Croatia
One of our last stops on our 2011-2012 trip, the little island of Hvar is home to the port town of Jelsa. The crescent bay sweeps up into the hillsides where locals open their homes for tourist rentals. Little cafes line the main square and in October when the bulk of visitors have gone home, they host the annual Biciklajada and the olive harvest. Circling the perimeter of the shore, stone patios and steps with bannisters allow very civilized access to the clear, blue waters of the Adriatic Sea. For a month, we rented a two bedroom apartment with Robert Grgvecic on top of the hill that overlooks the bay. But you can also inquire with our friend Paul at Total-Hvar for the latest in festivals and exclusive wine tastings at the Tomic Winery.
With over a year of travel, Neil and I have amassed a cache of photos and video. Each one is a little different and chronicles the trail that we’ve journeyed. They help us remember details so that we can share them on this blog and on other websites. And when we get home, they will decorate our walls to remind us of all the crazy things we’ve done on our gap year.