By Michael St Michael
Note: Before travelling, make sure you consult the US Department of State website, as well as government agency websites in the country you intend to visit. Even if not required, a negative Corona-19 test attesting to your health 72 hours prior to departure is strongly recommended. Keep this documentation with you and at the ready. When you receive the vaccine, make sure you include a copy of your vaccination record among your travel items. Finally, remember that conditions change rapidly. Always perform your due diligence to safeguard against unwelcome surprises.
In 2020 Covid-19 stole travel opportunities from most of us. Bravely or foolishly, more than 10 million people traveled through airports over the Christmas holiday, but most of us stayed home. With the promises afforded by mass vaccination campaigns already underway in several countries, 2021 may not be Covid-free, but it should see a return to something approaching normality, especially in the second half of the year. If the thought of getting out of your house and hopping a flight makes you feel positively giddy, here are three suggestions for destinations in 2021.
International flights to Ecuador resumed in June, 2020 and 2021 is a perfect time to explore all that this amazing country has to offer. Highlights for visitors include old town Quito, which possesses some of the finest examples of Spanish era colonial architecture. Quito has a rich blend of architectural styles from across the centuries. Its diversity of heritage helped to land it on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
While in Quito, don’t forget to visit Sombrereria Benalcazar at Calle Benalcazar and 24 de Mayo where you can find a huge selection of locally made hats and masks. Ecuador is the source of the finest Panama hats. Despite the moniker, the straw hats, woven from the toquilla palm, originated in Ecuador and the best are still made there today.
Explore beyond Quito with hiking and horseback riding on Cotopaxi, an active volcano with breath taking scenery is high on the list, as are other natural sites like Lake Quilotoa and Altar Mountain. These are must-sees for hiking and nature enthusiasts. These are not easy treks, however, with a special challenge being the muddy trails of Altar. Be sure to arrive mentally and physically prepared. Local guides are a must.
If you want to visit the Galapagos Islands, home to unique species and famous for the place where Darwin studied and was inspired in some of his most crucial thoughts on evolution, budget accordingly. Due to their remoteness and high demand The Galapagos are one of the few places in Ecuador which are expensive to visit.
Cheap accommodation in Ecuador can be had for those who are budget conscious for low prices. Nationally ubiquitous are the family-run guesthouses called hospedajes. Budget conscious travelers can expect to pay $8-10 per night in these establishments. Of course, higher-end lodging is available in the more tourist-frequented areas.
Food is generally inexpensive in Ecuador, with a kilo of apples and other locally grown fruit to be had in market stalls for $3 or less. Enjoy a tasty plate of the national dish, llapingachos, potato cakes stuffed with cheese and served with things like chorizo or eggs on the side. For those not faint-of-heart, there is always the option of grilled cuy, the local delicacy of guinea-pig, especially bred and raised for eating.
Nepal is a land of wonders, with a plethora of trekking and sightseeing opportunities. The ancient capital city of Kathmandu, a city of over one million, is among the most visited city in all of Asia. At an elevation of 1,400 m above sea-level (4,600 ft), Kathmandu is home to spectacular Buddhist stupas, Hindu temples, and an array of palace complexes, most of them hundreds of years old. Durbar Square, with its stunningly rich agglomeration of secular and religious architecture, is the starting point to experience centuries of history and tradition. The most popular site in the city is the Boudhanath Stupa, the beautiful circular architectural reliquary originally built in the fifth century AD. The pilgrimage site is one of the most impressive in the world and one of the oldest remaining in Asia.
The Himalayas dominate Nepal, and their rugged, dazzling beauty is what draws most people to Nepal. Mt Everest, the most famous, is, along with the hill station at Poon Hill, one of the most frequented spots and on most people’s bucket lists. If you are looking for something off the beaten path, try trekking around Mt. Manaslu, which offers a chance to experience one of the lesser-known pillars at the rooftop of the world. Some of the best hiking and sight-seeing in Nepal is to be found around the western city of Pokhara, jumping off point to explore the vast and varied parklands of the Annapurna Conservation Area as well as areas further to the south in the foothills of the Himalayas. There you will observe a wide variety of animals, birds, and plants across a host of different microclimates, each offering their own allure for visitors.
While hiring a local guide and securing gear in Tibet can be expensive, most costs of daily living are not. A budget of $25-40 will provide you with lodging in hostels, food, admission to sites, and transportation.
Food in Nepal is eclectic with lots of options to explore. One ubiquitous local dish is pulao, or rice pilaf, with each region contributing its own versions of the dish to the culinary repertoire. Vegetable pulao is usually flavored with cumin and turmeric and forms a tasty staple for locals and visitors alike. Dal bhat, of Indian origin, is a meal usually consisting of steamed rice and cooked lentil soup. In the uplands and interior of Nepal, where rice cannot be locally grown, barley or other cereals are substituted. Do not miss Nepalese dumplings, momo, made with a variety of vegetable or meat fillings. These simple dishes can be found quite cheaply, with the local specialties costing $1-3 on average.
One of gems of the Baltic Sea region, we include Latvia on the list as a 2021 must-see in Europe. Especially friendly for the budget traveler, the country packs a punch of sights for visitors, no matter what their interests.
Start your journey in the capital, Riga, a walkable city with architectural gems that span through the centuries. Among the most famous buildings to explore is the Riga Cathedral, originally built in the early thirteenth century but with numerous additions through the centuries. The House of the Blackheads, a short walk from the Cathedral in Old Riga, was founded as a meeting point for unmarried members of the city’s medieval guilds. After its rebuilding following its destruction in WW2 and the Soviet Era, the beautiful medieval and early modern structure today serves as a museum. Fans of historic architecture will find in Riga the greatest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings anywhere in the world. More than one third of all buildings in the old city were built in a burst of cultural and economic euphoria at the beginning of the 20th century. Each structure is a vibrant testament to an international movement, lovingly executed by local architects and craftsmen in a dizzying array of high style and detailed workmanship. After you’ve taken in the architecture, do not miss the Riga Motor Museum, home to the largest collection of antique cars in the region. Also on the must-see list is the Latvian National Museum, housing more than 52,000 pieces of original art.
Those who love the outdoors will want to visit Jurmala Beach, considered by many to be the best in the Baltic. Hikers will find paradise at Kemeri National Park, which preserves some of the representative geography and wildlife habitat of the region, including forest mires and woods. Dzintari Forest Park offers hiking through forests of ancient pine, climbs to an observatory overlooking the magnificent expanse of trees, and obstacle courses for those who want a challenge. Dzintari Forest Park is situated amidst of a garland of old, historic little resort towns popular in the twentieth century, especially among elites of the old Soviet Union. Using the town of Jurmala as your base, you will find endless charm amongst the towns, shops, and cafes.
When all of this sight seeing has made you hungry, consider tucking into any of a number of local Latvian specialties. On the must-try list: pickles and sauerkraut, which come in a variety of types and seasonings; rye bread pudding, a delightfully mushy mixture of apples, cinnamon, and cream over a base of the country’s sweetened traditional rye bread. When you want to digest your hearty northern cuisine, throw back a shot of Black Balzam. The national spirit is a vodka based herbal liquor and a wonderful digestif.
Lodging in Latvia in hostels is affordable – under $30 a night. Of course, as in all developed countries, a range of hotels and luxury lodgings are also available in Riga and other cities. Including transportation and meals, a day in Latvia will cost budget minded travelers under $50 per day, certainly a bargain for the experiences on offer.
Be sure to check back for travel insights, news, and updates in 2021.