What. A. Year.
Yep it was one for the record books, and yet, we managed some remarkable and inspiring travel moments despite it all. So in keeping with the past four years, we want to bestow our 2020 World Travel Awards. This year we have fewer countries, lodgings, and experiences to consider…but we believe they deserve our 2020 World Travel Awards recognition nonetheless.
By the way, I’ve been asked many times whether we lost a lot of money on travel when we had to abandon our trip in 2020. It took some work and persistence but most airlines, all Airbnb’s and all but one hotel gave us refunds or vouchers for future use. With about $10,000 at stake, we feel blessed to have only ended up losing about $1500. One silver lining in the Covid nightmare.
And the winner is…
Eleven Countries (we were supposed to visit 30)
For reference we visited Mauritius, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Uganda, Rwanda, Israel, Cyprus, England and the United States.
Favorite Overall Country – Cyprus
Despite the fact we hardly saw any of Cyprus, we still bestow it the 2020 World Travel Awards favorite overall country. Cyprus is where we went into lockdown and where we were stuck for seven weeks, housebound and unable to see any sites. We never ate in a single restaurant, went to the beach or saw any historic ruins or sites. Luckily the one thing we were able to do before we were forced into house arrest, was a wonderful cooking class. More about that below.
When we can travel again, we will return to Cyprus, to see the sights and to see the wonderful people we met during our time there.
Favorite City – Tel Aviv, Israel
We had four days in the beautiful city of Tel Aviv, a little jewel of a modern city in this incredibly ancient country. On day five as we began to explore more of Israel is when we, with only a few hours notice, were forced to leave as Israel went into lockdown. So the rest of Israel remains on our list, but thank you Tel Aviv for a wonderful visit.
Cutest Town – Bend Oregon USA
On our road trip in August we spent three quick days in Bend and I was reminded once again how much I love this part of the USA. It’s just beautiful and the food and beer are excellent too. I will definitely go again and spend more time eating and playing in this beautiful area.
Favorite Island – Maui Hawaii USA
It’s no secret how much I love the island of Maui…one of the most beautiful islands of the world. I have been blessed to visit many, many MANY islands, and still Maui remains at the top of my list. This past year in an effort to hide from Covid, we spent nine lovely weeks in Maui.
Most Expensive Country – Israel
Even though we did not spend even an entire week in Israel, it was clearly one of the most expensive countries we have been to. Still it remains at the top of our list we want to return to and enjoy.
Least Expensive Country – Mauritius
Considered an African country but feeling more like India, Mauritius is a unique place for culture, food and weather. Six weeks here was inexpensive for us and we enjoyed it very much.
Ten Airbnb/VRBO, Eleven Hotels, One Tree House, One Kibbutz
Favorite Airbnb – Cyprus
Our Airbnb in Cyprus, called Lemon Grove Ena was an absolute blessing – and we will forever be grateful that it is where we were when we got locked down. For seven weeks our hosts Maria and Fritos, as well as their property manager Sofronios, all of whom spoke minimal English, made heroic efforts to keep us safe and comfortable. We could not have been in better hands.
Favorite Airbnb Hosts – Cyprus
As above, our Cyprus hosts were so special. We hope to see them again soon.
Most Unique Accommodation – Tie for this category; Tree House Fall City Washington and Glamping in Carbondale Colorado
Back in the USA we were looking for ways to stay sane so we took a couple much needed Sanity Staycations. In doing so we discovered some unique places to stay. The first one was a beautiful Tree House about an hour from our home. The second was an awesome Glamping Safari Tent just outside of Aspen Colorado in Carbondale.
Best Hotel – Uganda
We were on a tour in Uganda, four days to see the Mountain Gorillas. And for two of those nights we stayed in a mountainside hotel called Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge. It was a tiny place with each room a separate cabin perched in the hills just outside of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Of all the places I have stayed around the world, the service here was one of the best. It also included a delicious small restaurant and bar. Each night they provided a turn down service as well as a hot water bottle tucked into the sheets. When we returned from our very wet and muddy trek in the jungle, they did our laundry too. Lovely.
Most Unique Hotel – Zambia
During our time at Victoria Falls we spent a week in a tiny African hotel called Ngoma Zanga. We ate all our meals here, enjoyed our comfortable room and the amazing staff that helped us have the best experience possible at Victoria Falls.
Best View Accommodations – Maui
We love to visit Maui and when there we always try to stay at the Kihei Surfside with it’s impeccable view
Strangest Hotel Experience – London
When we finally were allowed to leave Cyprus we headed back to the USA via London and those two days of travel were unlike anything we have ever experienced. See below for details. But we had to find a room at Heathrow, when everything was shut down. And so we stayed in what was essentially a closet for one night at Aerotel Hotel. There was no food available anywhere in or near the hotel so we ate day old sandwiches we had brought from Cyprus, slept fitfully and then boarded a USA bound flight in the morning. See more about that below.
Favorite Cuisine – Israel
Mediterranean food and middle eastern food collides in Israel and we enjoyed every bite and every morsel we could in our short visit. Even in the short time we had, this country easily is the tops in food for the 2020 World Travel Awards.
Best Cooking Class – Cyprus
So grateful to have had this experience just hours before going into full lockdown on Cyprus. It was our one opportunity to learn some culture and history and to meet some amazing locals. I cherish this day and all we learned and continue to make Cypriot dishes here at home. Our tour was organized by Cyprus Taste Tours.
Best Beer – Maui
Maui has a great microbrew culture and we visited three different microbreweries (and one distillery) on the island.
Best Coffee – Cyprus
Much like Greek or Turkish coffee, Cypriot Coffee is rich and dark and cooked in an Cezva and we loved it.
Best Meal – Maui
Nine weeks in Maui was amazing, but in an effort to social distance we did not eat in very many restaurants. But, when we did we had no complaints. Two incredible fish meals stand out for me; Mala Ocean Tavern and The Sea House Restaurant.
Best Cultural & Natural Experiences
Best Sunset – Maui
There it is again, my favorite island, which for 2020 also presented me my favorite sunsets…night after night.
Best Cultural Experience – Soweto South Africa
While in Johannesburg we took a cultural tour that included time in Soweto – the infamous township just outside of Johannesburg. We were thrilled by our reception, visiting a home, meeting lots of kids and learning so much about all that has happened to the people of Soweto. We booked this tour through Get Your Guide.
Best Beach – Maui and Honorable Mention Tel Aviv
Our favorite beaches are all in Maui, and while there we went to dozens. But we also thought the public beach in Tel Aviv was astonishingly beautiful. The beaches of Tel Aviv are another reason we can’t wait to return to Israel.
Best Tour and Best Tour Guide – Uganda
Best Bucket List Experience – Uganda
Seeing Mountain Gorillas in the wild was a lifelong dream for me, and celebrating this bucket list adventure for my 60th birthday could not have been better. Working with a tour operator called Achieve Global Safaris we were greeted at the airport by our guide John, who spent the next four days making sure we had an experience of a lifetime. I loved our time in beautiful Uganda and seeing the gorillas.
Best Natural Site – Victoria Falls with Honorable Mention to Mount Rainier
I am a bit of a waterfall junkie…can’t get enough! Our world travels have included seeing some of the most majestic and beautiful waterfalls around the world! In February we were blessed to visit the spectacular Victoria Falls, which straddles the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Beyond breathtaking. Magnificent.
And right in our home region of Washington State is another breathtaking and magnificent Natural Site – Mount Rainier. We did a lot of hiking this summer in and around Mount Rainier National Park. A place I do not take for granted and know how lucky I am to have this so close to home.
Best Manmade Site – Caesarea Israel
Although we were very disappointed to unexpectedly end our time in Israel due to the lockdown, we did get to see a few amazing things, including several remarkable ancient sites. We particularly enjoyed the ancient city of Caesarea with it’s fabulous chariot race track, remarkably intact amphitheater and many other interesting sites, all with a view of the ocean.
Best History Tour – Johannesburg South Africa
Our full day tour of Johannesburg not only gave us the opportunity to visit Soweto (see above) and the Apartheid Museum (see below) it also covered many significant historical events that have occurred in Johannesburg. It was fascinating and I highly recommend it.
Best Day Hike – Rwanda
Our week in Rwanda gave us a chance to learn more about the genocide that happened there in 1994, but it also gave us a chance to get out into the rural areas and see some of the beauty of this often overlooked destination. From the lakeside town of Kivu, we hiked with a guide over a mountain to a small village (about 8 miles) on the Rwanda Congo Nile Trail, and then took a tiny boat back. We learned so much about the history, culture, industry, agriculture, flora and fauna of this tiny little nation. It was a remarkable day – one of those rare and memorable experiences that was delightfully authentic – a top prize for the 2020 Travel Awards.
Expensive but Worth It – Mountain Gorillas Uganda
At nearly $4000 for a five day visit, this tour was far and away more expensive than anything we have ever spent our travel dollars on. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Speaking of heartbeat…mine nearly stopped when we finally found the family of eight gorillas we had spent three hours tromping through the jungle looking for. One of the most unforgettable days of my life. Enjoy this little video (which is by far my most watched YouTube video ever! ) Achieve Global Safaris was amazing.
Best Gardens – Mauritius
We spent one day at the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens near the town of Port Louise on the island of Mauritius. We were really surprised to find such a vast and well maintained Botanical Gardens in this tiny island nation.
Best Conservation/Environmental Protection Site – Mauritius
Definitely my favorite thing we did on the island of Mauritius was the boat tour to Ile aux Aigrettes, a protected atoll only 100 yards off shore. Here we took a remarkable guided walking tour to learn about the work being done by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation to preserve and protect numerous endangered species of animals, birds and plants. Mauritius can’t bring back the extinct Dodo bird, but they are working very hard to preserve the other unique and beautiful animals and flora of this special island.
Best Museum – Apartheid Museum Johannesburg South Africa
This museum is one of the best I’ve been to in the entire world. Amazingly organized to enjoy and learn chronologically it includes many interactive, video, audio aspects as well as an outdoor art exhibit. We were there for two hours and I wish we had two more. The Apartheid Museum is worth a trip to Johannesburg to see.
Craziest Thing We Did – Angels Pool Victoria Falls Zimbabwe
Whenever I look at these photos, I wonder what was I thinking? To be honest I did not really understand what I was signing up to do and it was only in the moment that I thought “oh shit.” But with caution we proceeded and it was actually fun, but also pretty freaking crazy. One of those things you do in a foreign country and afterwards you think “this would never be allowed in the USA.” I survived Angels Pool, Victoria Falls.
Least English Spoken – Cyprus
To be fair, we only dealt with a handful of people in Cyprus since we were mostly in house arrest, but the few friends we made we needed to do a lot of hand signals and pointing and laughing trying to get our message across
Friendliest People – Rwanda
Every person we met in Rwanda was a delight. From hotel people to just people on the street we found Rwandans sincere, kind and very interested in us. Like in some other countries, I still hear from a few people we connected with and I love knowing they are well and still remembering meeting us.
Hottest Day – Mauritius
I swooned in Mauritius. The humidity was oppressive on a few days. Hottest day was 101F. We also lived through our third cyclone while on the island.
Coldest Day – Haleakala Maui
At 10,000 feet Haleakala, particularly on a windy day, can be downright frigid. It was 37F in the morning with a nasty wind chill as we started our hike there.
Best Place to Run – Maui
Hands down of all the places we traveled this year running in Maui was the best. I always run in the morning before it got too warm, and the view, well, you can’t beat it.
Best Game of Golf – Sun Valley Idaho USA
We golfed a lot this year, it being one of the few things we could get out and do safely. I made a commitment to really improve my game and I did. My favorite golf day was at Elk Horn in Sun Valley Idaho
Best Yoga Spot – Maui
Yoga continues to be part of our daily routine, and Maui wins again, offering us the best yoga spot we found.
Craziest Travel Day Ever – Heathrow, London England
The day we finally left Cyprus after seven weeks we flew to Heathrow and spent the night. The following morning we headed to our gate for our 12 hour flight back to the USA. This experience in Heathrow, one of the busiest airports in the world, will remain with me for the rest of my life. Walking through Heathrow without another person anywhere to be seen was eerie, surreal and the most defining moment for me of what Covid-19 had done to our world. It was frightening. But I’m glad I had the experience of it, I certainly will never forget it.
Craziest Experience Overall – Cyprus
If you have read this far, you know we were locked down in Cyprus, basically under house arrest for seven weeks. To leave our Airbnb we had to ask permission via text. We could only leave our house once a day. So if we needed groceries, that was all we could do that day. No groceries needed? Then we could ask permission to exercise, which we did most days, running in our little neighborhood around the village of Argaka. It was a surreal experience, definitely unlike anything else we have encountered in our world travels. And despite it all, we wouldn’t change it…it certainly is something we will never ever forget. Thank you Cyprus for taking such good care of us. And no question it needs to make the list for our 2020 World Travel Awards.
I will add, that in all our travels, our time in Cyprus was the first time we needed to be in direct contact with the US Embassy. We were grateful for the guidance they provided even though their hands were tied. If you travel international, we highly recommend signing up with each Embassy you visit through the State Department Step program…apparently you never known when you are going to need it. See how to do that here.
That’s a Wrap
It was not the travel year we imagined in January 2020, and yet, we added some of the most remarkable experiences of our life to a life of extensive remarkable experiences. I am very grateful for that. And, I am beyond grateful to all the kind and wonderful people we met this year while traveling. So many just trying to save their businesses, stay safe and healthy, and do the right thing. What a blessing to have met them all.
Next week I will share a blog about our near term travel plans. But as far as long term or international travel, we have none. My guess would be we might not leave the USA until 2022. But I can’t know that so early. If that happens, next years Travel Awards will look very different, or perhaps I will need to decide if the blog has run its course. But I can’t know that yet either. All I know is the 2020 World Travel Awards have a special place in my heart.
Meanwhile we continue to be grateful for all the travel we have enjoyed, our current state of health and wellness, and our upcoming USA travel plans where we can lockdown in the sun. I have no regrets, no complaints and just a wee bit of sadness for all that has happened, or not happened.
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Please be sure to read next Friday’s blog to see what happens next for My Fab Fifties Life.