The unbearable heat of summer is just around the corner, which ultimately means beach trips, tropical coolers, and the thrill of going to new places you've never been to before. Whether you're looking to splurge in sprawling cities teeming with art, culture, and cuisine, planning to bum it out at a tropical island, or wanting to explore some exotic, backwater village that tourists haven't found yet, you have plenty of options that are perfect for 2015.
1. Bali, Indonesia
It's no wonder Bali is called the Island of the Gods. Bali is the blazing sun, powder-fine beach sand, and the gentle rolling surf combined with a bustling metropolis entrenched in the ages-old culture and traditions of the Balinese. When you've had your fill of surfing, snorkeling, and diving, take some time off to explore some of the island's 10,000 temples, visit its lush green rice terraces, or go on a tour of its interior jungles teeming with native species. Plus, don't forget to head to Ubud, where you'll find the exotic sights of the royal palace and the unique sounds of Bali's gamelan music. Think Bali's rates are off-limits for you? While airfare may still be high, the Hotel Price Index reports Bali hotels have dropped prices by 12 percent.
2. Montreal, Canada
Say au revoir to your folks for a summer vacation in the New France. Flights to Paris and everything else in the City of Lights may be out of your budget, but who says you can't immerse yourself in the sensuous French culture and language in the North American continent? Montreal is France Nouveau, where hotel rates don't rise and fall with the influx of tourists. Savor authentic French cuisine and swish it down with a glass of wine at downtown Café Grévin by Europea or head to Laloux for a taste of elegant yet rustic roasted quail with chanterelles, followed by a historical tour around the Château Ramezay, where a French colonial garden waits for your pleasurable stroll.
3. Sark, Channel Islands
Travel back in time to Sark, the loveliest island in the Channel Islands situated off the coast of Normandy, France. You won't find shopping malls, fine dining restaurants, or a swarm of tourists here. The island and its tiny population of 600 may have been freed from feudalism 450 years ago, but Sark harks back to its old ways. On its unpaved roads, there are no lights, and you have to walk, cycle, or ride in a horse-drawn carriage wherever you plan to go because there are no cars. And bring all the money you will need on the island because Sark's two banks have no ATMs. The best time to go is in July, where artists, local and otherwise, gather on the island to celebrate folk and contemporary music with the locals, with freshly caught seafood and locally brewed cider and beer flowing endlessly.
4. Taipei, Taiwan
Taiwan has emerged from under the shadow of China not just as a travel destination but as a rapidly growing economy. Its capital, Taipei, is filled with towering skyscrapers and buildings designed by world-class architects. But more than being the World Design Capital of 2016, Taiwan is a gastronomical adventure no self-proclaimed foodie should miss. The challenge in this country is to stay hungry because there simply is too much to try for a single trip. At the Raohe Street Tourist Night Market, one of many markets in Taipei, you'll find all sorts of street fare, from mochi (rice balls) to xiaolongbao (steamed dumplings). In mid-July to late August, go to Keelung in the northeastern part of Taiwan via the Taiwan Railways system for the Mid-Summer Ghost Festival, which is like Christmas for the Taiwanese. If you're lucky, you'll be able to witness a sacrificial ritual to the deity Chung Kwei, who protects people and banishes evil spirits.
5. Yellowstone National Park
The Yellowstone National Park is more than 2.2 million acres of an outdoor enthusiast's dream. Every year, more than 3 million visitors head to the grandest national park in the U.S., but you won't feel boxed in by tourists at all. That's because there is plenty of uncharted places to keep to yourself, whether it is the waterfalls, mountains, canyons, and geysers you want to see. Just be ready to encounter some of the park's permanent residents, ranging from harmless elk to actual grizzly bears (make sure you have the right safety information at hand to keep out of danger's way). Hotels and a few restaurants abound, such as the Yellowstone Hotel Dining Room, which serves game meat, such as trout, bison, and antelope, but if you want to save on costs, you can rough it out with Mother Nature by bringing your own bed and food.
6. Choquequirao, Peru
Around 60 miles west of the Incan capital of Cusco is the sprawling citadel of Choquequirao, built by the emperor Topa Inca, successor of Pachacuti, known for building Machu Picchu. The bastion of the Incan empire may be the most popular, but Choquequirao, with its ancient temples, fountains and piazzas, is not one to miss, especially if you want to dodge the tourist crowds at Machu Picchu. Only around 30 people take the grueling 9,800-foot climb to Choquequirao each day; there are no trams or buses to take you there. The best time to go is June to August, which is winter in Peru. Daytime is dry and temperatures are conducive to hiking, but bring winter clothes for the freezing nights. And don't pass up on that whole, roasted guinea pig the locals serve as their specialty.
7. Marrakech, Morocco
For a vacation so uniquely exotic, head to Marrakech. Here, time doesn't exist and past and present fuse in a world that combines snake charmers and spice stalls with baristas and al fresco cafés. Inside the walls of the ancient city of Medina, you'll find a kaleidoscope of colors, sounds, and aromas. Vendors selling all sorts of spices you've never heard of before and Berber chemists promising to cure any ailment in the world tempt you with their wares, and songs and stories that were first heard thousands of years ago are heard floating through the shadowy alleys. Before the day ends, stop at a hammam for a refreshing dip in the pool water, or take your pick at one of the chic cafés outside Medina for a drink before heading out for a night of dancing at the Ville Nouvelle.
8. Salzburg, Austria
As a town steeped in baroque architecture, some of Salzburg's attractions are better known as the places where the scenes of "The Sound of Music" were shot. Want to see our beloved Von Trapp family's backyard? It's at the Schloss Leopoldskron, standing magnificently beside the same idyllic lake Leopoldskroner Weiher we see in the classic film. The Felsenreitschule rock stadium, where the Von Trapps made their escape, is also found in Salzburg, as well as the Mirabell Gardens, where the Von Trapp children sing "Do Re Mi" hopping onto the steps. If you go in July, you'll also witness the Salzburg Festival, the biggest opera and orchestra music festival in the world.
9. Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar
The 800 islands of the Mergui Archipelago, also known as the Forbidden Islands, at the southern cost of Myanmar look like some part of a fantasy world. There are hundreds of pristine beaches untouched by civilization, jungles explored only by native wildlife, and the mysterious nomadic Moken Sea Gypsies who permanently live on the archipelago's surrounding waters via live-aboard boats, an experience worth trying out. The light winds and clear waters of June make the weather perfect for snorkeling and diving, where you're likely to encounter sharks, eagle rays, and even a whale shark if you're fortunate. Sadly, the Myanmar government has forced the Moken tribes into settlements, all the more reason for you to visit Mergui before the civilization closes in on them.
10. Coastal Maine
Summer not your favorite season? If you want to extend spring as long as possible, drive up northeast and take a road trip on the coast of Maine. Everywhere else in the country, you'll find temperatures rising, but Maine will stay in spring for much longer. Revel in breathtaking views of the coast along Route 1, and be sure to make plenty of stops for Maine's famous juicy lobsters. Along the way, you might also want to check out the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay and the spectacular views from the Marshall Point Lighthouse in St. George.
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