Our Favorite Places: 10 Countries That Stole Our Hearts
Valentine’s Day is typically a time to celebrate the people we love. But what about our favorite places?
Travelers know that places have the power to steal our hearts. When you find yourself in a new country, surrounded by stunning sites, rich smells, exotic sounds, and the beautiful people who call that country home, you might just fall in love.
We spoke to ten travel bloggers who have made their way around the globe, but found their hearts were stolen by one place in particular. Perhaps by next Valentine’s Day, you’ll have traveled to one of these places and discovered a new love in your life!
I spent two weeks in Belize and fell in love with the country because it provided both peaceful relaxation and memorable adventures. I split my time between recharging on the picturesque beaches of Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye and exploring the interior’s caves and jungles.
I felt like Indiana Jones while exploring the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave, which features sacrifice remains and pottery. – David Lee of Travel Blog Success
Costa Rica is a near perfect combination of exotica, adventure, and hospitality, especially if you are on your first international adventure or traveling as a family with young travelers.
Our family loves adventure, so we took ourselves well off the beaten path, which isn’t that hard in Costa Rica, and inevitably got lost, repeatedly. This led to great encounters with people waving us to a stop on back roads and dirt tracks, to explain that a bridge was out ahead, or that we had taken one (or more) wrong turns.
In one small village a group of young girls laughingly stopped us from a wrong turn to nowhere and happily redirected us back to the right road.
Everyone expects Costa Rica to be beautiful, which it is. But what you quickly come to realize is that what makes Costa Rica special is its people. – Malone Hodges of Our Traveling Life
Few travel experiences have touched my heart more than my people-to-people tour of Cuba with Discover Corps. Through their remarkable connections, I was able to see first-hand how Cubans are transforming their lives by tapping into the arts.
José Fuster converted an impoverished fishing village into an international art destination with his ceramic mosaics. Another grassroots project, Muraleando, trained kids to paint murals on their fences and homes, turning a once-blighted neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana into a community filled with pride.
In the small colonial town of Cienfuegos, artist Santiago Hermes Martínez turned his home into a collective where starving artists could stay for free. The art they created eventually spilled out onto the street, becoming the basis for monthly street festivals that forged community solidarity. It was a heartwarming experience that renewed my faith in the indomitable human spirit. –Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut
I went to the Dominican Republic looking for sun, sand and R&R. But I ended up having one of the best experiences of my travel life. One day a group of us rented a car and drove around the countryside. Away from the coast, the touristy glitz and glamour gave way to local life, and we spent hours exploring the landscapes.
We watched an amazing sunset from the top of a hill, but then we couldn’t find our way back in the darkness. So we stopped in a nondescript village in the middle of nowhere and asked a random passer-by. His name was Tomas Cruz, and he was more than happy to direct us back to the resort… but not before we joined him at his house for a drink and a couple of cigars.
We didn’t know whether to “go with the flow” and accept the invitation or just drive away, fearing a scam. In the end, we spent a wonderful evening with rum, bachata and many, many laughs. It was a defining moment of my travel life: I learned that there are many more nice people than bad people out there! –Margherita Ragg of The Crowded Planet
One word: avocados. A country full of avocados immediately wins a place in my heart.
But Guatemala stayed there once I conquered a 24,000 foot volcano to sleep at the top and watch an erupting volcano nearby. The challenges that Guatemala can impose make the journey that much more special. The people of the country have so much pride and they are using the pride to scratch and claw their way out of the violence that has stricken the country for some time. – Megan Stetzel of Forks and Footprints
For several years, my biggest travel dilemma has been how to visit all of the corners of India that I haven’t yet been to, without completely neglecting the rest of the world.
I fell in love with India as soon as I arrived and have been back 6 or 7 times. I studied Indian history and literature at university, so I knew a lot about the country before I made my first trip. This really helped me appreciate everything I saw, and while most of the usual cliches apply — I found it a little overwhelming, scary, crazy — I also felt that I understood it on some level.
I love India’s variety, how the mountains of the Himalayas in the north are completely different from the steamy backwaters of Kerala in the south, and how the arid desert forts and palaces of Rajasthan are a world away from the swampy Sundarbans of West Bengal. I love how helpful Indians are, and how you only need to turn up at a bus stop to be immediately sent in the right direction. I love the food, from the cloying density of traditional sweets, to the creamy curries of Punjab, to the crispy dosas of the south. India is my happy place. – Elen Turner of Wilderness Metropolis
I’ve always been fascinated by the ancient Inca ruins of Macchu Picchu and Sacsayhuaman, the mysteries surrounding these structures, and the people that built them. Some are built with technologies and methods that have modern engineers left scratching their heads. The Nazca lines, for example, appear to have been designed to view from the sky, as if meant to be a message from the gods.
Peru also has some of the most extreme variety of landscape in South America, which provides excellent photographic opportunities, from the driest desert of the northern Atacama to the wet and humid jungles of the Amazon.
Aside from the ancient ruins and amazing sights, there are Peruvian fruits and cuisine. The savory roasted chicken dipped in green Picante sauce and paired with fried Yucca root, satisfies the belly and the soul. The variety of tasty tropical fruits like Passion fruit, Chirimoya, and Pepino you can enjoy for pennies on the dollar. – Adonis Villanueva of Always Wanderlust
My visit to South Africa changed my life in so many different ways, it’s difficult to put it into words.
It was during a week-long safari in Kruger National Park that I learned about the connection between ecotourism, nature/wildlife conservation, and the preservation of local cultures. It was also the first time I understood that the way we choose to spend our money can actually have a profound impact on local communities, whether for better or worse.
Touring through the townships of Durban, I saw the economic disparity created by decades of racial segregation and subjugation. In KwaZulu Natal, I stayed in a tradition Zulu village and learned more about the rich history and culture of these proud people.
In the end, the people of South Africa affected me just as deeply as the remarkable wildlife encounters, creating a deep love affair with the continent that has left me yearning to return, over and over again. – Bret Love of Green Global Travel
Though it wasn’t just the country I fell in love with. I also met my husband there. Having climbed Kilimanjaro on separate tours, we had 12 hours together to bond over our love of the country before leaving to catch separate flights. What followed was a long distance love affair, a destination wedding, and a lifelong partner with whom I continue to travel the world.
So yes, my heart was stolen on my trip to Tanzania. Perhaps it was the wildlife, or perhaps the chance encounter with a handsome traveler who I ended up bringing home. Hows that for a souvenir! –Meg Jerrard of Mapping Megan
I fell in love with Thailand because of a fire.
I stood on a busy corner of Bangkok, jet lagged, disheveled and sweating through the long sleeves I was wearing as proper attire for temple hopping. In the distance, across the river, I could see angry black clouds of smoke, churning. It was clear that this was not a peaceful, contained fire. It was an emergency.
Out of nowhere, barreling down the road, a red pick-up truck headed my way. A man in the passenger seat held a flashing light in his hand, propped to the roof of the truck, a gesture of official response. Several other men sat and knelt in the cab of the truck, a small army of first responders on their way to the scene. And I smiled. Here was the Thailand I had heard about – resourceful, scrappy, and eager to help. And I was in love.”– Julie Smith of Drive on the Left