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Summer's Best Bets
Summer's Best Bets

While many migrate to sand and sea for their summer vacation, others may have a different set of criteria for their mid-year getaway. Be it cultural, historic or adventure-laden, your summer should be packed with more than just our clothes. Pull out your globe and check out our 14 best summer vacation destinations. Each one inspires us in a different way, but all are worthy of a visit.

Guanajuato, Mexico – Colonial Silver City

Guanajuato, Mexico

Built in the days of mining fortunes, Mexico’s silver cities provide a plethora of colonial romance in vibrantly colored buildings, unchanged cultural traditions and historic landmarks. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Guanajuato shines as one of Mexico’s masterpieces. Situated northwest of Mexico City in the cooler central highlands, the city is the birthplace of muralist Diego Rivera, whose home is now a museum. An active social scene, stately mansions, colonial churches, and a maze of more than 600 alleys lend this university city unique flair.

  • Meander through the labyrinth of steep and twisting cobbled streets and alleys to take in the enticing scents that emanate from markets, street vendors and French bistros
  • Enjoy some people watching in the Jardin de la Union, the city’s hub of social activity
  • Relive a tragic lovers’ tale in the Alley of the Kiss, a passageway so narrow that the balconies on either side nearly touch
  • View Teatro Juarez for a look at splendid architecture
  • Visit the historic La Valenciana Mine, which helped produce a third of the world’s silver supply in its time
  • Take a Spanish course
  • Join a group of strolling musicians who take visitors on singing, dancing and drinking tours in the evenings
  • Visit any number of interesting museums – don’t miss the Mummy Museum for a glimpse of the macabre side of Mexico.
  • For more information visit Mexperience's Guide to Guanajuato

The Yukon – Adventure in the Midnight Sun

The Yukon

Vast, empty wilderness and long days mark the Yukon as a destination for summer adventure. Just over the size of California with less than 35,000 inhabitants and a half dozen highways, the Yukon offers wild grandeur at its finest:



  • St. Elias Icefield—the world’s largest non-polar icecap
  • Mt. Logan, Canada’s highest peak
  • Klondike gold rush outposts
  • Whitehorse and Dawson City, where the summer sun never sets
  • Local brews advertised as “beer worth freezing for”

Canoeing, hiking and fishing options abound in this land of elemental extremes. You’ll need to charter a plane or helicopter to see the St. Elias Icefield properly, but spectacular scenery and good hiking await in the front ranges of Kluane Park. Explore the Tombstone Mountains just north of Dawson City, or go further afield and take the spectacular Dempster Highway to Inuvik in the second half of August when foliage changes to a sea of reds and oranges. While Parks Canada runs all kinds of tours in quaint Dawson City, Whitehorse offers its own selection of interesting haunts. Stop in at the Chocolate Claim on Strickland St. or at Baked downtown for a taste of homemade treats and locally roasted coffee. To sample some Arctic brew, take a tour at the award-winning Yukon Brewery, maker of Lead Dog Ale, Yukon Gold and Espresso Stout. The Yukon is a province of Arctic legends, its beer is no exception. For more information visit Travel Yukon.

The Big Island, Hawaii – Eruption of Beauty

The Big Island, Hawaii

The less-traveled island of Hawaii is like the quieter big brother of its island siblings. Rivaling punchier Oahu, surfer hangout Maui and exotic maiden Kauai, the Big Island exudes a more tranquil manner with a brawny twist. Five majestic volcanoes set the stage, featuring Mauna Loa as the world’s largest; Mauna Kea as the world’s tallest mountain from ocean floor to summit; and Kilauea as the active resident pouring molten lava onto the island’s shores to form the country’s newest real estate. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park allows visitors to see this living earth as it erupts. With a huge drive-around crater and climbing locations to see orange fire pouring into the ocean, Kilauea is worth the effort. Circle the island to view the sea turtles and black sand beach of Punalu’u Beach Park; the Mauna Kea Observatory atop the world's tallest peak; historic downtown Hilo; scenic overlooks on the Hamakua Heritage Corridor; the sacred temple of Mookini Heiau State Park; paniolo (cowboy) country and historic Parker Ranch with its approximate 25,000 head of cattle; the sunny coffee plantations of Kona; and the fascinating lava landscapes of the Kohala Coast. Accompanied by beaches, resorts and ocean views, the Big Island offers a stellar vacation blend. For more inforamtion visit Go Hawai'i.

Indonesia – Islands of Colorful Distinction

Indonesia

As the world’s fourth most populous country, Indonesia bustles with activity and a fascinating mix of spiritual influences. Bali’s exotic Hindu culture, lush landscape and beaches are best known to travelers. But further afield, over 17,000 more islands await with all manner of offerings:

  • Unique horned huts set in an extinct volcano on Lake Toba in Sumatra
  • Borobodur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple on Java
  • Headhunting villages in Borneo
  • Dragons on Komodo
  • Islands like the Gili trio off Lombok that are so small you can circle them on foot

Each of the major inhabited islands carries its own unique traditions flavored by a fascinating mix of island spirituality and religions introduced by early traders and Dutch, Portuguese and Japanese colonists. Although the Muslim faith dominates, Indonesia retains an artistic and storytelling heritage that is rich in symbolism and spirituality. Ceremonies and festivals to honor the spirits abound, while traditions in shadow puppetry, silver making, jewelry, wood carving, furniture building, textile forms like batik, and other traditional arts and handicrafts live on; even a remote village in Sumatra may have a silversmith perfecting his craft. Indonesia may well be the most colorful country in the region. Summer is the “dry season” and lends itself well for travel to this exotic location. For more information, visit Indonesia Tourism.

Makanyane Safari Lodge, South Africa – An Adventure of Animal Magnetism

Austria

If you want to live luxury in the bush, check into the remote Makanyane Safari Lodge in South Africa for a safari experience par excellence. Located in the Madikwe Game Reserve in the far northwest corner of the country on the border of Botswana, Makanyane offers eight hidden forest suites and views over the Marico River. Outdoor showers and glass walls allow guests to see all the wildlife that ambles thrillingly close to the luxurious hideouts. Rhinos, lions, elephants, giraffes and endangered wild dogs freely roam the 75,000-hectare reserve. Activities include game drives and walks, bush hides that offer a unique view of wildlife, bush barbeques, a spa and a gym. Intrepid travelers can venture out for Makanyane’s “Star-View Sleep Out,” a nocturnal bush experience in which guests sleep on the upper deck of a hide next to a waterhole. Sheer canopied beds and innumerable stars provide an African experience like no other. Be treated like a king and enjoy a high level of privacy in this remarkable setting that’s less traveled than Kruger National Park and advertised as malaria-free—just another reason to put Makanyane on the fantasy travel list.

Austria – The Hills Are Alive

Austria

The romantic Alp nation of Austria lies quietly nestled in the heart of Europe overshadowed by Germany and Switzerland in size and wealth. This small country, however, sings loudly with its breathtaking scenery, picturesque towns and rich artistic heritage. Birthplace of Mozart and the setting for The Sound of Music, Salzburg enchants with panoramic vistas, a superb Old Town and musical tradition. Music and drama lovers flock to the world-famous Salzburg Festival during the summer, while Sound of Music lovers can join any number of sing-along tours. Austria’s capital offers no less tradition. Filled with an incredible literary and artistic legacy, Vienna has seen the likes of Strauss, Haydn, Schubert, Mahler, Gustav Klimt and Sigmund Freud fill its grand halls. Although music, palaces, cathedrals and art bring many to see it, Vienna captures as many hearts with its Lippizaner horses, its infamous cafes and schnitzel. Beyond that, experience Austria’s grandeur in towns like Hallstadt and Zell am See or in spectacular Tyrolean valleys dotted with traditional farmhouses and furry cows outfitted with clanking bells. With mountains, meadows, monasteries, flowering balconies and fabulous bakeries, Austria inspires us to don our lederhosen and sing to the hills. For more information visit Vacations in Australia and Salzburg Festival.

Vanuatu – Extreme Diving

Vanuatu

Far out in the Pacific Ocean between Australia and Fiji, you’ll find a small, less-traveled set of island paradises with all the best tropical pursuits of snorkeling, volcano viewing, beachcombing and diving, as well as land diving. Known as “the original bungee jumpers,” brave locals with only vines tied to their ankles and woven loin coverings plunge to the earth from giant wooden towers constructed without a single manmade material. A thrilling sight to behold, this ancient tradition, known as the Naghol, complements the annual yam harvest on Saturdays from April through June on Pentecost Island. Rigorous tribal dancing and singing at the base of the towers accompanies the plunging divers. If you can’t get there by June or don’t care for adrenaline rushes, you can catch the Toka Festival in August on Tanna Island, known for its giant banyan trees. Experience the three-day fun of traditional tribal dancing, lavish gift exchanges, pig roasts and kava drinking. An integral piece of South Pacific living, kava is a social, celebratory and medicinal beverage derived from the plant of the same name. Since kava’s relaxing effect does not produce a hangover nor stimulate aggression, it serves as a positive alternative to alcohol and is used as a remedy for such maladies as anxiety, back pain and insomnia. Kava tasting tours are also offered throughout Vanuatu. For more information visit Vanuatu Hotels.

Glacier National Park, MT – Where the Rockies Meet the Sun

Glacier National Park, MT

The spectacular Going-to-the-Sun Highway in Montana’s Glacier Park combines nature’s breathtaking majesty with fantastic manmade engineering. Eleven years of labor produced a road now designated a National Historic Landmark. High demand to see what Native Americans called the “Backbone of the World” propelled the highway undertaking to begin in the early 20th century. Previous to that, visitors came in by railroad, followed by days on horseback. Needless to say, it’s a road worth taking in a park worth seeing. Summer’s blue skies and crisp sunshine bring out the alpine peaks, meadows and flowers of Glacier Park in full regalia. Clambering mountain goats often grace the roadside scene, while golden grizzlies, wolves, and lynx roam more than one million acres of parkland. Camping sites and 750 miles of maintained hiking and backcountry trails allow visitors to wander the park with the wildlife to take in its vivid beauty, while hotels and chalets built by the Great Northern Railroad add charming nostalgia. For more information visit Glacier National Park website.

Cusco, Peru – Inti Raymi Festival

Cusco, Peru

Serving as the springboard for trips to the spectacular Machu Picchu ruins high in the Andes, Cusco once reigned as imperial city to the Incas, inhabited by the royal family, priests and requisite court personnel. To this day, the city continues to celebrate its stately heritage. Its most important festival, Inti Raymi, is hailed as the second largest festival in Latin America and attracts thousands of locals and visitors on June 24, coinciding closely with the Southern Hemisphere’s winter solstice. Weeklong festivities in Cusco serve as precursors to the event held to honor the sun god, Inti, Inca deity of the highest order. Hundreds of local actors don colorful Incan costumes and reenact the ancient procession from Cusco to the colossal Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman, where the drama continues on the plains. Folk dancers, drummers, and musicians accompany this symbolic performance filled with elaborate pageantry. For a more local experience, sit on the hillsides instead of the pricier grandstands set up for tourists.

France – Romantic Canal Travel

France

Summer travelers seeking idyllic French romance need only board a vessel to begin their journey. Former working barges transformed into floating hotels ply the waterways throughout the country on a vast network of canals built in the 17th century to link the region’s rivers. Choose a tour to navigate you through some of the most picturesque and bucolic regions of France, or plan your own itinerary and captain your own barge, no license required. From cozy and comfortable to grand and luxuriously outfitted, barges meet all manner of requirements for passengers to experience the French joie de vivre. Sit atop your vessel and enjoy a French meal and a glass of wine in the company of friends or with strangers who soon become like family. Cruise under charming bridges, through tree-lined canals and engineered locks and past charming scenery. Stop for excursions to nearby towns and vineyards by bicycle, car or bus. Bearing poetic names like Papillon (butterfly) and Enchanté (enchanted), barge cruises elicit the lyrical, dreamy romanticism of a week in the languid countryside of France. For more information visit Barges in France.

Iceland – Lord of the Arctic Ring

Iceland

No longer among the world’s most expensive places to travel, Iceland is an Arctic outpost with a clean and serene majesty. From an edgy cafe, nightlife, art and music scene to volcanic glaciers, magnificent waterfalls, geysers and thermal pools, Iceland boasts a unique mix of progressive literary and artistic legacy in its people and an extreme ruggedness in its landscape.

In the running for Europe’s cleanest capital, Reykjavik is home to art shows, museums, colorful Nordic houses and a vibrant social life. Meanwhile outdoor adventure waits just minutes outside Reykjavik’s limits in this land of contrasting edginess. Legends of elves and fairies study at the Icelandic Elf School, while super jeep, snowmobile and helicopter tours are available to see the volcano on the Eyjafjallajokull Glacier in southern Iceland. Hotel Ranga offers “Dinner with a View” overlooking this spectacular fire on ice. Described as an unearthly paradise, Iceland has a flair for Nordic radiance. For more information visit the official Iceland Tourism webiste.

El Capitan Canyon, California – Camping SoCal Style

El Capitan Canyon

No best-of destinations’ list would be complete without a mention of California. The golden state offers some of everything, including luxury camping. Twenty miles north of Santa Barbara, you’ll find the ultimate indoor/outdoor experience. You’ll hear the frogs and marvel at coastal and mountain views, but without the hassle of pitching a tent. Instead, find simple, elegant southwestern luxury in cedar cabins and safari tents outfitted to encourage serenity. Hike the canyon, cruise the beach on a bicycle, kayak the ocean or tour the nearby wine country. Yoga, storytelling, barbeques, massage treatments, stargazing and summer concerts come standard. For more information visit El Capitan Camping.

Pantanal, Brazil – Call of the Wild Things

Pantanal, Brazil

Brazil’s dense Amazon jungle boasts more renown, but spanning millions of hectares of central-western Brazil and eastern Bolivia and Paraguay, the great, open expanses of the pristine Pantanal offer unparalleled wildlife viewing. As the largest wetland system on the planet, this magnificent frontier of flora and fauna features scores of exotic birds, jaguars, pumas, giant river otters, alligators, anacondas and armadillos, to name just a few. Guided tours direct jaguar and puma tracking, night safaris, piranha fishing and more.

Stay at an area wilderness lodge, skim the rivers and try the local Pantanal food for a taste of exotic fare. While the Pantanal Lodge Wildlife Center lets guests enjoy a more typical Pantanal experience with a small ranch, the Jaguar Research Center Lodge is a tent camp for a more deep-wilderness Pantanal adventure. June through December are the driest months and thus, the best time to visit, with flowering trees in bloom during July and August. For more information visit Tropical Nature Travel.

Appalachian Trail, U.S. – America the Beautiful

Appalachian Trail, U.S.

A perfect example of America’s outdoor spirit and adventure, the Appalachian Trail (AT) stretches from Maine to Georgia. Covering 2,178 scenic miles, the trail passes through dense woods, towering peaks, solitary valleys and gorgeous national parks and forests in 14 eastern states. Built by private citizens and maintained by 30 trail clubs and thousands of volunteers, every inch of this trail is public, and walking it is free.

This marvelous trail is closed to motor traffic and bicycles, but populated with day walkers, hikers and backpackers. Although not required for walking, some areas do require overnight camping permits. Whether you decide on just a gentle amble, a weekend hike, a section hike or a full-on thru-hike, the AT has something for everyone. Plan your trip around specific starting points, overnight trail shelters or interesting sights and vistas. Check the website Appalachian Trail Conservancy trail map for a sneak peak at this unique piece of American heritage.

Oberammergau, Germany – A Promise of Passion

Gualala, CA

Once every decade, a picturesque town in the Bavarian Alps becomes the destination for half a million people who come to witness the fulfillment of a promise made by its townspeople almost 400 years ago. During a terrible plague in 1633 that claimed hundreds of lives, Oberammergau’s residents made a pledge to God in the cemetery to perform a play every 10 years that portrayed the passion, suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. The plague ceased and the townspeople staged their first performance above the graves of plague victims in 1634 to mark the victory of life over death. The year 2010 marks the 41st season of this centuries-old tradition that has become the world’s most famous passion play.

Oberammergau is well known for woodcarving, buildings featuring tromp l’oeil murals, balconies burgeoning with flowers, classic Bavarian architecture and its lovely forested hills and meadows. But it’s the story of faith and commitment that make it a storied pilgrimage site for thousands. Only lay people born in the town or those who have lived there at least 20 years may perform in the five-hour passion drama. However, all are welcome to watch this stellar outdoor production complete with orchestra and choir. Daily performances held throughout the summer are sold out months in advance—after all, it isn’t often that promises of passion are kept for hundreds of years. For more information visit the official Oberammergau Passion Play website.

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