16. Massawa, Eritrea
This important East African port has lived through some tough times, as evidenced by the bullet holes in many of the old town’s buildings on Batsi island. What’s cool, though, is that some of the buildings are virtually in ruins, and seem unused during daytime, but suddenly come to life as bars and restaurants at night.
Visiting Massawa isn’t the easiest of tasks, however, and you should set aside six to eight weeks to get your Eritrean visa. It’s also a bit of a bus ride from the capital of Asmara unless you take the tourist train that leaves, well, almost never. So, prepare for a journey. If you do make it and can afford to, organize a boat ride to the Dahlak islands.
15. Sukhumi, Abkhazia, Georgia
Flickr/Stefan Krasowski (edited)
Visiting this town is not for the faint-hearted, as it’s in a breakaway republic — or a country that does not exist, if you like. And while Abkhazia may not be recognized by any member of the United Nations, that doesn’t seem to stop the inhabitants in the capital city of Sukhumi from caring and/or having fun. And lots of it too. You’ll need a visa to enter (available online, just make sure to print it out!) from Georgia or Russia, and its location on the Black Sea makes it an ideal spot for a good ole Soviet-style beach holiday. Although, admittedly, the place is more than just beaches — the mountains and some of the lakes are equally stunning.
14. Nuku’alofa, Tonga
Chances are you’ve never even heard of this place, as Tonga is a tiny island state with virtually no tourists. But that shouldn’t prevent you from going. In fact, just the opposite. The capital, Nuku’alofa, is famous for its BBQ feasts and the people are very welcoming — so there’s a good shot you’ll be invited to one. Stay in town but take day trips to the beaches on either side of the main island; I rented a scooter and got to the isolated beaches and blowholes — geysers created when the waves push water through tunnels in the bedrock — in no time. They’re fascinating and great for your Instagram feed!
13. Jurmala, Latvia
Flickr/Bryan Ledgard (edited)
I am not really into resort towns, but the Pearl of Latvia delivers on so many levels beyond nice hotels and white sand beaches. You can enjoy pretty much any spa treatment you’ve heard about (you know, if that’s your thing), dine at nice restaurants, or enjoy leisurely walks between the characteristic wooden houses or on marked trails outside of town. Also, check out the open-air ethnographic museum and see what traditional coastal fishing villages used to look like. Located only a few miles from Riga Airport, the hub for airBaltic, it’s super easy to get to, as well.
12. Eilat, Israel
This town by the Red Sea is ideal for party lovers, beach enthusiasts, and scuba divers; the Red Sea offers ace diving conditions and you can rent gear on Coral Beach. Restaurants are in no short supply, and there are a lot of bars too, many of which stay open 24 hours. The town is also a perfect launching spot for day trips into the Southern Negev desert.
11. Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain
This little gem of a town isn’t quite as little as it seems, and you might easily end up trekking five to 10 miles in a day here in order to see everything. Then again, all the tempting food is likely to slow you down a bit. The seafood is first-rate, as is, of course, the jamon — this is Spain after all, and you’ll find several specialty shops where you can pick up big joints of cured ham. I particularly love the cozy and romantic bars along the seafront — they’re perfect for trying out the local sherry and enjoying the flamenco music. For some excitement, visit in August when there are horse races on the beach.
10. Barranco, Peru
Barranco is actually one of Lima’s 43 districts, but it’s the one that stands out and feels like a town on its own. This is where you will roam the streets with artists, writers, and musicians, and where you should fully expect to enter into eye-opening and mind-broadening discussions. And when you’re tired of all the intellectual deep thought, escape to the beach and jump on a surfboard — the conditions are absolutely ace. I also love the colonial architecture, the many green spaces, and, of course, the top-class nightlife. And who would have known, but Peruvian wine is catching up to its excellent cuisine. Prepare for some big surprises.
9. San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
The bright colors of the wooden houses in this seaside town are amazing, but that’s not the half of it. Luckily, there’s even more to the area in natural beauty. Both the surrounding forests and remote beaches are must-visits, and the harbor and boats that anchor outside aren’t too bad either. The selection of restaurants and bars is solid for a town this size; just don’t ask for a Cuba Libre — bartenders will make you an equally good or better Nica Libre with local rum.
8. Napier, New Zealand
This is one of the two coolest Art Deco cities IN THE WORLD, challenged only by Asmara in Eritrea. Napier, which is located in one of New Zealand’s wine districts, was totally rebuilt in 1931 following an earthquake, and it’s impressive. As for the wine, there are several tasting trips you can take that also include locally produced food; the cheese, in particular, is highly recommended. Also, don’t worry about finding a place to stay, the hotels are plentiful and available in all price ranges. Finally, random pub-quiz fact: the world’s longest place name (which my sister Kjersti amazingly knows by heart), Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, is only 100 miles away. A drive to at least the sign is a must for the wildest selfie of the year.
7. Ushuaia, Argentina
Naturally, the gateway to Patagonia and Antarctica delivers on nature. That’s expected. But throw in great restaurants and a few cool pubs, and you’ve got yourself a surefire winner. You’ll still want to leave the town to truly appreciate the area’s main attractions, including penguins, and be sure to venture into the area north of town where many of the locals live; the bright colors and architectural liberties will bring a big smile to your face.
6. Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Stone Town is in reality one of two parts of the larger Zanzibar city, but the one that has helped make Zanibar world famous. The architecturally impressive coral stone buildings from the 19th century are divided by very narrow streets and alleys and take hours to explore on foot. Notice the designer wooden doors! Plan on scuba diving with turtles and dolphins in some of the world’s clearest waters and haggling at the market for quality local spices to bring home with you. And no matter what, don’t miss out on the sunset — it’s one of the most famous in Africa and best enjoyed with a drink on a terrace.