It’s never too early or too late to embark on a holiday that consists of you and you alone. Making your own decisions, exploring places on your own, people-watching – these are experiences that can provide relaxation and enlighten like no other. If you’re in a tizzy as to which places to put on your solo vacation wish-list this year, why not consider the Americas? Packed with adventure, mystery and spectacular views, these five countries in the Americas serve up unforgettable experiences, minus the usual discomforts of travelling alone. All you need is some early planning, money and some basic phrases in Spanish and French – and you’re good to go.
1. Costa Rica, South America
Clocking in the highest global ranking of happiness and an equally impressive safety index, Costa Rica is the idyllic destination for avid explorers, boasting a wonderful mix of nature, beaches and sunshine. Surfing, kayaking and horseback riding are just a few of the many activities one can enjoy while taking in the breathtaking views of Costa Rica. Take a trip on horseback to explore the volcano and geysers at Rincón de la Vieja National Park, or witness the mass nesting of olive ridley sea turtles between August and November annually at Ostional, north of Nosara on the Nicoya peninsula. Rafting on the Reventazón River or snorkelling at Isla de Caño – 10 miles off the north tip of Osa peninsula – are equally great ways to satisfy the adventure-seeking soul.
Rincón de la Vieja National Park and rafting on the Reventazón River.
There are an abundance of beaches in Costa Rica, but if you’re seeking to avoid crowds of tourists, James Kaiser – author of Costa Rica: The Complete Guide – recommends Playa Arcos in Marino Ballena National Park, Playa Carrillo (just south of Playa Sámara offering hammocks and fresh coconut water) and Punta Uva, five miles west of tourist hotspot Puerto Viejo and boasting a beautiful coral reef offshore. You can opt to stay at an ecolodge (which is certified by the Tourism Board) or arrange a homestay (and participate in community activities such as cheesemaking) for a truly unique Costa Rican experience.
Playa Carrillo and Casa Corvocado ecolodge.
It’s best to brush up on some basic Spanish here before embarking on the trip, and to also exchange US Dollars to Colónes at a local bank for better rates. Malaysians do require a visa to enter Costa Rica, and http://costarica.com/visa/ has more details on the application. Costa Rica is served by the Juan Santamaria International Airport at San Jose. The general advice is to avoid walking alone at night (as in other places) to enjoy a safe and fun-filled trip. With such high happiness rankings, perhaps it’s no wonder Costa Rica are smoothly advancing through the World Cup, against all expectations.
Located between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize is the only country in its region to use English as its official language. The lesser-known country is home to the Mayan ruins – in case anyone forgot, the Mayans predicted the world would end in 2012 – which boasts a rich historical and architectural heritage. Cave tubing – an experience offered by few countries worldwide – in St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park or Nohoch che’en (or Jaguar Paw) Archaeological Reserve are not to be missed. Swimming ability is not required, but is a definite advantage. Booking online prior to the trip is recommended due to the popularity of tours, which include zip-lining and trekking as part of the package.
Mayan ruins and cave tubing.
Scuba diving and snorkeling are popular activities in Belize. Many will flock to the Great Blue Hole, but sites such as Half Moon Caye Wall (featuring eagle rays, garden eels and colourful reefs along walls), Tres Cocos (housing spotted morays and schools of parrotfish) and the relatively shallower North Wall, Long Caye (where you can swim with turtles) are great dive sites as well. All are located at Lighthouse Reef, an atoll off the coast of Belize. Visit the Shark Ray Alley for a chance to see sharks and rays during feeding time, or (if you’re up for the spooks) head over to Actun Tunichil Muknal, an ancient cave housing the remains of Mayan sacrificial victims (yes, you will encounter the skeletons). The Queen Cays beaches offer clear seas and a relaxing experience.
Snorkelling in Belize and some artefacts in Actun Tunichil Muknal.
Learning some Spanish is optional but highly recommended, as – being in close proximity with Spanish-speaking countries – many locals use Spanish. US Dollars are widely accepted in Belize, with an exchange rate of US$1 to BZ$2 (Belize dollars). Cheaper accommodation can cost about BZ$20 – 40 per night and the bulk of your cash is usually spent on activities and tours. Visas aren’t required for Malaysian nationals, and you can catch a flight from Miami or Los Angeles to Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport in Ladyville, a 30-minute drive away from Belize city. Most places in Belize are safe for solo travelers, and adopting normal travelling precautions will free you from any thefts or annoyances.
3. Ottawa, Canada
Bordering a predominantly French-speaking Quebec on the north, Ottawa is the largest city in Canada to have two co-official languages, namely English and French. Nepean Point features gorgeous views of Parliament Hill and the Ottawa River, the former of which offers a free 45-minute guided tour and an elevator ride up Peace Tower, which gives you a bird’s-eye view of the capital. Byward Market, open daily from 8am to 8pm, is a great place to find shop, with yummy food – including artisan bread and cheeses – handmade items, salons and more. Thursdays are night market days, and the market features special events regularly.
Nepean Point and Byward Market.
Near Byward Market is Rideau Canal , another great place to visit for biking or casual strolls. During summer the canal is filled with boats, while in winter, it becomes a huge ice skating rink. At the point where the canal meets Dow Lake is Commissioners Park, a picturesque tulip viewing area. It is also the largest planting site for the annual Canadian Tulip Festival, which began in part due to the annual gifting of 20,000 tulip buds from the Netherlands for the Canadians’ help in sheltering Princess Juliana during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. If you’re seeking a haunting experience, be sure to book a place with The Haunted Walk, which explores haunted venues in Ottawa.
Rideau Canal in summer and winter; tulips at Dows Lake.
Getting around in Ottawa is not a big problem for English speakers, but you may occasionally bump into some French-speaking locals, so picking up some phrases here is a good idea (on a side note, Canadian French is slightly different from French). Malaysians do need visas to enter Canada, and flights from Kuala Lumpur to the Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport usually include one or two stopovers. Travellerspoint offers an array of cheap accommodation choices. It is generally quite safe for solo travelling, but roaming around at night – especially near Rideau centre – is discouraged. Should you face any racism on the streets, either walk away or report it to local authorities (if things get too serious).
4. Vancouver, Canada
Located in the British Colombia region of West Canada, Vancouver is also a great destination for solo female travellers. Stanley Park, which is almost entirely surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, is great for strolling or biking, and for taking in beautiful landscape views. It will host a fireworks show on the 5th of July, in conjunction with July 4 Independence Day celebrations. Up north, you will find the Lynn Canyon Park, Capilano Suspension Bridge and Deep Cove, which offers kayaking, canoeing and surf skiing. Cypress Mountain, Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour are great for hiking and biking in the summer, as well as snowboarding, tobogganing or skiing in the winter. Grouse Mountain even has a Skyride, an aerial tram which ferries visitors up and down the mountain, treating them to spectacular views of Vancouver.
Stanley Park and Grouse Mountain skyride.
Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver is a popular spot for day hikes with panoramic views. If you happen to be in downtown Vancouver, head on over to English Bay, where kayaking, scuba diving and fishing will keep you occupied. It’s also a lovely place to watch the sunset. Granville Island is a must-see, with food, arts and street performances galore. A newer attraction is FlyOver Canada, a simulated experience involving an 8-minute journey from East Canada to the West, complete with wind, mist and even scents! It’s open daily and is located at downtown Canada Place. Lusic festivals in Vancouver, such as Osheaga are also exciting events to check out when you’re in town.
FlyOver Canada and Osheaga.
The majority of the population speak English, so it’s pretty easy to get around. Visa is required for entry under a Malaysian passport, and flights to Vancouver International Airport usually take 1-2 stops in between. Vancouver can get a little pricey, due to its popularity with tourists and immigrants. To save money, Couchsurfing can help you get cheaper board and also offers an array of activities for members. Public transit is also easily accessible. General travellers’ precautions will do to give you a pleasant and memorable experience.
5. San Francisco
There’s more to this big city than the Golden Gate Bridge. Popular among first-time solo travellers, San Francisco is a great choice for people who like to do some exploring on foot, bike or transit. Solo Traveler Blog recommends taking the Powell/Hyde cable car all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf – the journey offers sights of different parts of the city and a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. It also goes past Lombard Street, the famous “crooked street”. At the end of the journey, enjoy the entertainment offered by street musicians or walk to Pier 39 to look at sea lions. If you’ve always been intrigued by one of the most fortified prisons in the world – Alcatraz Island – you can book ahead for ferry rides or tours, which sets off near Fisherman’s Wharf.
Aside from walking or biking over Golden Gate Bridge, check out the Palace of Fine Arts, a great place for photography. Golden Gate Park – almost as big as Central Park – combines gardens, windmills, the Japanese Tea Garden and the DeYoung Art Museum, among others. The great thing about San Francisco is that it’s somewhat a centre point among places you might want to visit, such as Napa Valley, Yosemite National Park and Muir Woods, a forest of huge redwood trees. Have fun exploring the various eateries, or relax at the numerous cafes around the city.
Cycling at the Golden Gate Bridge and the Japanese tea garden.
San Francisco is not a problem when it comes to language. Visas are required for Malaysians. San Francisco is an expensive city to visit, in terms of transport and accommodation. The San Francisco International Airport is served by numerous airlines, including United Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Virgin America. To save costs, get an unlimited-use transit pass for mass transit (does not include Bay Area Rapid Transit) as you may be forking out $6 per cable car ride! It’s also recommended to stay in the city area (e.g. Union Square) rather than renting a car and staying in the outskirts, as transport costs can easily pile up. The weather in San Francisco fluctuates between windy and warm, so bring some extra layers just in case.
So step aside, New York and Hawaii – these five countries are the new darlings of the solo travelling stage.
Rincon de la Vieja – http://www.tripadvisor.com/
Reventazon River rafting – http://www.costaricatargets.com/about-2/san-jose/reventazon-river-class-i-ii/
Playa Carrillo – http://www.huffingtonpost.com
Mayan ruins, artefacts at Actun Tunichil Muknal , Nepean Point, Byward Market, tulips at Dows Lake, Grouse Mountain skyride, Alcatraz island – http://en.wikipedia.org/
Rideau Canal in summer and winter – http://outdoorottawa.com/2011/12/ncc-accepting-pitches-to-animate-the-rideau-canal/
Lombard Street – http://www.maniacworld.com/Skateboarder-vs-Lombard-Street.html
Cycling on Golden Gate Bridge – http://momentummag.com/blogs/momentum-blog/aca-golden-gate-bridge-bike-ride/
Japanese tea garden – http://www.wildnatureimages.com/Japanese%20Tea%20Garden%202.htm