Take the Travel Alphabet Challenge

A-B-C-D-E-F-G. . . Now that I’ve got that song in your head, I’d like to propose a fun challenge – The Travel Alphabet Challenge, if you will – that will help you reflect on your past travels and hopefully tide you over until you can start having new ones.

The guidelines are really simple: Come up with your favorite specific destination – it can be a city, town, island or landmark – to which you’ve traveled that begins with each letter of the alphabet. Don’t use countries or regions unless you really have no other choice. The result will be that you’ll be more appreciative of the experiences you already have, and maybe find some inspiration to get back out there once it’s safe to do so.

Share this challenge with your family and friends or your followers on social media for a fun, safe, and inspiring activity that will keep your wanderlust happy . . . for now.

Below are my entries and the sometimes agonizing debate on which place gets the top spot. Have fun!

A: Antigua, Guatemala

A Peaceful Courtyard in Antigua, Guatemala

This Central American gem surrounded by volcanoes beat out the cultural capitals of Athens, Greece and the city of Agra, India. An honorable mention goes to the evocative ruins of Ayutthaya, Thailand.

B: Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Lagoon of Bora Bora, French Polynesia

The B’s had some serious competition, with such world-renowned capital cities such as Beijing, Budapest, & Buenos Aires in play. But as anyone who’s been to Bora Bora can attest, that lagoon is just too beautiful to take second place to anywhere else. A shout out to tiny Boracay in the Philippines for its incredible beach as well.

C: Chobe National Park, Botswana

Cruising on the Chobe River, Botswana

The C’s had quite a few worthy entrants. Most noteworthy are the Australian town of Cairns as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and the amazing former Inca capital of Cuzco, Peru. But in Chobe National Park, those sunsets over one of the largest elephant populations in Southern Africa are honestly hard to beat.

D: Dominica, Caribbean

Roadside Bar, Roseau, Dominica

This green jewel in the Windward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean is home to the second-most beautiful place I’ve ever been: the tropical Titou Gorge. On that basis alone it beat out the also-stunningly-beautiful Denali National Park in Alaska, and the intriguing Middle Eastern playground of Dubai.

E: Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard, USA

Charm out the wazoo in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard

To be honest, I just can’t think of many places I’ve been that begin with the letter ‘E’ (besides the country of Egypt, and again, I’m aiming to be more specific). This is not a knock on quaint Edgartown with its quintessential New England houses and picturesque storefronts bustling on a summer’s day, but it would appear that I’m low on ‘E’ – centric experiences. I’ll have to get on that going forward.

F: Flam, Norway

Walking the trails above Flåm, Norway

This adorable outpost in the Norwegian Fjords is the starting point for the jaw-dropping Flamsbana Railway, which shoots it to the top of a very short list. I also have to give a nod Fairbanks, Alaska, USA because of its standing as the farthest north I’ve ever been. Apparently I haven’t had many noteworthy ‘F’ experiences in my life either.

G: Geiranger, Norway

The amazing setting of Geiranger, Norway

The ‘G’s were a really tough one to call. Geiranger is the third-most beautiful place I’ve ever been, and is only slightly edged out by the Titou Gorge in Dominica. Goreme, in the Turkish region of Cappadocia is home to incredible stone cities and was the place I went on my first (and only) hot air balloon ride. There’s also Antarctica’s scenic Gerlache Strait, the walled city of Galle in Sri Lanka, and I’ll never forget the wonderful people I met and partied with in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

H: Hoi An, Vietnam

Time to party in Hoi An, Vietnam

The H’s were also well-represented. Hong Kong, Honolulu, and Harare could each have easily been the frontrunner. But the charm and color that oozed from each street of UNESCO World Heritage-listed Hoi An was enough to put this historic town on top.

I: Ilha Grande, Brazil

The tranquil cove of Praia Pousa, Ilha Grande, Brazil

Even if I hadn’t been short on ‘I’ locations, this idyllic island on Brazil’s Costa Verde, with its lack of cars and abundance of beauty would still claim the top spot. No offense, Istanbul.

J: Jodhpur, India

The Blue City, Jodhpur, India

Other than the Taj Mahal (which we’ll get to shortly) my greatest motivation for visiting India was to see the Blue City of Jodhpur. Looking down at the warren of hyacinth-blue alleyways from atop the massive town fortress was a travel dream come true. Special props also go out to the Pink City, Jaipur, India, and the most famous city in the Holy Lands (& Bible history) Jerusalem, Israel.

K: Kalambaka, Greece

The Meteora, Kalambaka, Greece

Too many K’s so little time. It was striking to me how many of my memorable travel experiences took place in a ‘K’ location. Tiny Kalambaka is the gateway to the unforgettable Meteora, pictured above, and my visit there was a thrill I still fondly recall. But the K’s don’t stop there. There was the incredible scenery of Australia’s Blue Mountains in Katoomba; whitewater rafting in Borneo outside of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia; and attending a beautiful convention in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. But if there was a second place award I’d probably have to give it to Killarney National Park in County Kerry, Ireland. The bucolic setting interspersed with the ruins of a crumbling abbey at sunset are firmly etched on my brain.

L: La Digue, Seychelles

Anse Source d’Argent, La Digue, Seychelles

Famous for its screensaver-worthy beach Anse Source d’Argent, this quiet pearl in the Indian Ocean is the quintessential island escape. This gives it the edge over the hip British capital of London, and the Costa Rican adventure town of La Fortuna.

M: Milford Sound, New Zealand

Mitre Peak, Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Milford Sound in southwestern New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park is my choice for the all-time most amazing place I’ve ever been. Pictures just can’t do it justice, so if you ever have the chance, please go there and you’ll save me the trouble of trying to explain it. Tropical heavyweights Maui, Moorea and the island of Mahe in the Seychelles make ‘M’ a dominant letter in my travel alphabet.

N: Nusa Penida, Indonesia

Me and the Manta, Nusa Penida

This little island just east of Bali was the site of my dive with manta rays, which ranks high on my all time list of amazing animal encounters. New Delhi, India – which was a much more interesting destination than I had originally expected, and the Neumayer Channel on the icy Antarctic Peninsula are also ‘N’ highlights for me.

O: Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Going up? Dunns River Falls, Jamaica

As an admitted travel snob, I thought myself above the possibility of being impressed by such a mainstream tourist destination as Ocho Rios. But after climbing gorgeous Dunns River Falls and floating the aqua-blue White River, I found myself humbled by the natural beauty that defies the rampant tourism development that defines this popular cruise port. A special nod to the Hawaiian island of Oahu for, well, just being awesome.

P: Tie – Ponza, Italy/Paraty, Brazil

Chiaia di Luna, Ponza, Italy
Sunset over the Historic Center, Parati, Brazil

For me, the ‘P’ stands for powerhouse, as some of my favorite destinations on the planet all begin with that same letter. The authentic Italian island of Ponza is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a second home, and my memories there are something I deeply cherish. As for Paraty, I fell in love with the place just minutes after arriving, and if I could choose a setting in which to live, the jungle-clad mountains and islands of Paraty Bay and its surroundings are my vision of paradise. Had they been spelled with any other letter besides ‘P’ the Thai island of Phuket, and gorgeous Praslin Island in the Seychelles would be vying for that top spot for any letter, as would my second-favorite place in Italy – Positano on the Amalfi Coast.

Q: Quito, Ecuador

La Ronda is a bit more subdued in daylight hours, but still literally just around the corner

You would think that ‘Q’ would be an easy letter for choosing a favorite, but I found it to be a challenge to choose from such contrasting but fascinating destinations such as Quito, Quebec City, Canada and Queenstown, New Zealand. Ultimately I had to give the nod to Quito. Its colonial center and mountain setting just ticked too many boxes for it not to come in first, but I tip my hat to the ‘Qs’ for an impressive ensemble showing.

R: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

 

Despite not being a city person per se, I was mesmerized by the setting of Rio de Janeiro and its namesake harbor that’s considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Ipanema Beach and the views from Sugarloaf Mountain didn’t hurt either. The silver and bronze medals for my list of R’s goes to the Eternal City, Rome, and the lovely Caribbean island of Roatan, Honduras.

S: Singapore

Welcome to Pandora at Gardens by the Bay

The ‘S’ destinations were a bit tricky for me, with lots of good options but no one that really stood head and shoulders above the rest. Eventually I had to go with Singapore, for its beautiful Botanical Gardens, unique Night Safari Zoo, and the otherworldly-after-nightfall Gardens by the Bay. Honorable mentions go to Sydney, Australia; Stanley, Falkland Islands for being a slice of rural England inserted at the very bottom of the globe; St. Thomas in the USVI for Megan’s Bay, one of my favorite beaches of all time; and lastly Sigiriya, the monolithic fortress in Sri Lanka just for being really cool.

T: Taj Mahal, Agra, India

It may look doctored, but this image is 100% untouched

As a fan of architecture, I couldn’t not pick the Taj Mahal when it came time to select my favorite ‘T’ spot. To date I’ve never seen any building that could be its equal. Unfortunately that stole top billing from two other very worthy entrants. The Timbavati Reserve in South Africa was the site of my first safari and all its associated thrills. And Tahiti, besides being the flagship island of French Polynesia, is the very definition of ‘tropical paradise’.

U: Urgup, Turkey

Cave Hotel, Urgup, Turkey

Much like the letter ‘Q’, I was surprised that there were actually several contenders for the top ‘U’ destination. I went with Urgup since it was part of one of my favorite regions in the world: Cappadocia. This was also the site of one of the most unique properties where I’ve ever spent the night, namely, a cave hotel. A shout out to Ushuaia, Argentina for its alpine charm and Undara National Park in Queensland, Australia for its genuine Outback setting and abundant wildlife.

V: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe/Zambia

The only way to see it all is from above

Not surprisingly, when you’ve visited one of the world’s most impressive waterfalls, it’s going to make an appearance on your ‘best of’ list. From both the Zimbabwe and Zambia sides this is another one of those places you just have to see for yourself in order to understand how awesome it is. Other notable ‘V’ destinations are Valentia Island, on Ireland’s southwest coast, and the city of Vancouver, whose setting is unrivaled by any but a few cities (see also ‘R’).

W: Wanzhou, China

Child acrobats, Wanzhou, China

My affection for Wanzhou, a small city on the Yangtze River, is owed to the experience I had while watching a local children’s theater perform as I sat amongst a bunch of area farmers. It was there, upon observing our common reactions to the feats performed onstage despite the obvious cultural differences, that I truly understood that people are people – even if they’re in China. As a runner up, I nominate colorful Willemstad, the capital of the island of Curacao.

X: To be determined

As it turns out ‘X’ was the easiest of all the letters, because I have no recollection of being anywhere that begins with that challenging letter. It’s not for nothing that you get a full 10 points in Scrabble for using it. If you live an a place that starts with the letter X and remember seeing me pass by, please let me know at your earliest convenience. Until then, I’ll probably have to make another trip to China to make it work.

Y: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA

Old Faithful, and a pretty reliable geyser behind him, Yellowstone National Park, 1994

The ‘Ys’ were blissfully free of competition, but even so, the first and arguably most famous of all American National Parks is a bucket list destination in its own right. To all other ‘Y’ places I’ve passed through and can’t remember, thank you for playing.

Z: Zambezi River, Zimbabwe/Zambia

Sunset over the Zambezi River, Border of Zimbabwe and Zambia

The fact that two of the letters in my travel alphabet are occupied by the Zimbabwe/Zambia border is testimony to how special a place it is. Recalling an evening cruise as the sun went down in the most orange sky imaginable while hippos splashed along the shore is a memory I’ll always treasure. The ‘Zs’ may be few, but they are mighty.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed perusing my personal travel alphabet and the deliberations that were required to create it. I encourage you to begin working on your own, and feel confident that you too will enjoy the memories, anecdotes and imagery that will inevitably come to mind as you do so. Be sure to share this challenge with family and friends and on social media, so that everyone’s travel alphabet may be firmly in place by the next time we’re ready to set off into the big wide world.

So to conclude and avoid keeping the more OCD among you hanging, let me finish the song I started at the beginning. “Now I know my (travel) A-B-C’s. Next time won’t you fly with me.” You’re welcome.


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