It’s May, and the season when summer travel planning is in full swing. While spring break is usually viewed as a “take-it-easy” type of vacation, summer vacations usually afford families a lot more time. Therefore, there’s room to get a little more creative. Families usually start planning their summer vacations with me fairly early – typically in December. However, if you haven’t planned yet, don’t worry. There’s still time! I’m in full vacation planning mode this month.
Most people who travel from Denver know that DIA is light on the nonstop flights anywhere outside of the country. With the exception of Mexico, nonstops are pretty limited to Reykjavik, London, Belize City, Frankfurt and Munich and various Canadian cities. And those flights are fairly limited. Cayman Airways recently became the first airline to fly between Denver and the Caribbean (to Grand Cayman). In addition, United Airlines opened a nonstop between Denver and Tokyo recently. With these limited nonstops, families in Stapleton tend to stick to the easy options. But summer is the time to get out and explore further!
Portugal is seriously on the rise for families. Flights usually go through Newark or Toronto, depending on airline. Portugal is one of the cheapest European countries, making it extremely popular this year for affordable European family travel (with the exception of the typical summer travel flight costs). And with cosmopolitan cities, gorgeous beaches, tons of wineries and amazing food, what’s not to love?
A popular combination is Lisbon, followed by beach time in either the Algarve region or Cascais. Cascais is a quintessential beach town and just 20 minutes from Lisbon, making it very easy to get to for either a day trip or several days. The beach and amazing seafood rule supreme in this town. The Algarve region is on the southernmost tip of Portugal and consists of several towns and villages – Sagres, and Albuferia being the most popular for families. Beaches, framed by limestone cliffs, are off the charts beautiful, and everything about this region defines family vacation.
After my visit in December, Grand Cayman is my newest obsession in the Caribbean. When most people picture the Caribbean, they imagine rustic roads, sugar plantation ruins, and chickens running around. Not Grand Cayman. This island has a huge banking industry, making it more cosmopolitan than other Caribbean islands. So much more than just a beach – which, by the way, is amazingly gorgeous – Cayman has several great towns, a turtle sanctuary, caves to explore, museums, the famous Stingray City and world class diving and snorkeling. A visit to Camana Bay, which has more than 500 annual events and super restaurants, and you’ve got a jam packed family vacation with something for everyone. And with a nonstop flight from Denver on Saturdays, it’s easy to get to, as well. Fun fact: Don’t call the Cayman Islands “the Caymans”. It irritates Caymanians. It’s called Cay-MAN. Emphasis on ‘man’.
Mexico is a big favorite for Denverites, due to easy and quick flights. Favorite towns are Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo. Getting more attention this year are Merida and Isla Holbox. Specifically, a combination of the two for a nice 8 day trip.
Merida is a charming Spanish colonial town located on the Yucatan Peninsula, about 3 hours west of Cancun. Known as one of Mexico’s most beautiful cities, Merida has rich history, bustling markets and bright colonial architecture. And so many things to do! Our family adores Spanish colonial architecture and culture and everything that comes with it. And the food! Food vendors, street performers and weekly evening Fiestas make Merida a really special place.
Isla Holbox is an easy drive, about 150 miles northeast of Merida. Another location few have heard of, Isla Holbox is a small island just 2 and a half hours north of Cancun. If you’re looking for crystal clear water and white sand beaches, Holbox is the place. With dirt roads, open air bars and markets and a population of just 2000, Holbox is unspoiled and charming. Mainly a fishing village, this tiny island is the place to be if you want to be off the beaten path.
Last summer, we took advantage of our time off and went to Costa Rica for the first time. And we’re so glad we did! Costa Rica has numerous places to visit and we chose Nosara and Arenal for our visit.
Nosara is a tiny town in the Guanacaste region which is gaining popularity. This cute little town has dirt roads winding through the jungle, little surf shops, adorable restaurants and bars and an amazing beach with waves that aren’t too big and perfect for body surfing for any age. My son and I boogie boarded one wave with two stingrays. It’s not uncommon to see monkeys jumping through the trees. And with several boutique hotels to choose from, even the accommodations are charming as can be.
A great add on to the beach is a visit to the Arenal volcano region. Arenal is about a 3 to 4 hour drive from the beach, but it’s well worth it. We hired a driver to avoid driving on twisty roads and the van even had wi-fi. The scenery was fascinating and we found Arenal to be one of the neatest places we had been to. Skipping the rainforest during a trip to Costa Rica is a huge mistake in my opinion. Arenal has dense jungle, amazing hot springs and a huge, towering volcano. Complete with steam coming out. Staying at a hotel with hot springs on the property is a must do!
I’ve been talking about Colombia for awhile – ever since our own visit there three years ago. The days of Pablo Escobar and drug cartels have been over for over 20 years, revealing a country that is more than ready for tourism. Cartagena is honestly one of the most beautiful cities our family has ever experienced. Think cobblestone streets, horse drawn carriages and brightly colored Spanish colonial architecture. Add in bougainvillea sprouting from practically every balcony and you have one of the most picturesque cities in South America.
After visiting Cartagena, a gorgeous island to add on to the trip is Isla Mucara, in the San Bernardo island chain. White sand beaches and crystalline water is what Mucara is all about. There’s one resort on the island – Punta Faro – and the owners couldn’t be more welcoming.
If time allows, a visit to Medellin is well worth it. A cosmopolitan city framed by mountains – a friend called it “like New York City in the mountains” – Medellin is the polar opposite of Cartagena. Skyscrapers, amazing food and a bustling nightlife make this an exciting place to be.
I get tons of calls about Maui and Oahu every summer, but this summer, I’ve had numerous inquiries about Kauai. Kauai is the oldest island in the Hawaiian island chain and has some of the most unique topography. It’s not as built up as Maui, which is a plus for a lot of travelers. In fact, our extended family is visiting in July.
A huge draw for Kauai is Weimea Canyon. Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of Hawaii”, Weimea Canyon stretches 14 miles long and is 3600 feet deep. Instead of the deep red of the Grand Canyon, this canyon is a tropical green. A day trip here during a trip to Kauai is a must.
Aside from amazing beaches, Kauai also has the Na Pali Coast. Ever seen Jurassic Park? Many of the scenes were filmed along this stunning coast line. The coast extends for 16 miles and soars 4000 feet above the sea. A stunning site for any visitor and a huge draw for tourists.
As I mentioned before, it’s not too late to plan your family’s summer vacation. Summer is the time to recharge and reconnect with you family. We love adventurous vacations combined with some relaxing downtime, and all the options above fit the bill. We’re counting the minutes to our own vacation to Kauai – combining some adventurous tours to the coast and Weimea Canyon and some serious beach and pool time with extended family!
Overwhelmed by the options for planning a trip. Email me here and I can help!