All throughout 2019 we’ll be introducing selections of unique attractions designed to help inspire your next big trip.
Volume 2 explores destinations that are worth seeking out in Colombia, Japan, Iceland, and California.
Click here to see Volume 1.
It sounds like a polar plunge, something you do just to say you’ve done it — but there’s more to snorkeling Iceland’s Silfra Fissure than surviving the 35-degree water. You won’t see any fish (it’s mostly too cold for animal life), but other than that, you’ll see everything. By the time it flows into the fissure, Silfra’s blue glacial water has been filtered through underground lava rock for decades, resulting in some of the clearest water in the world. Snorkelers are thus treated to 300 feet of visibility nearly all the way down the vast rock canyon and, sometimes, to rainbows that form when the sun hits the underwater landscape. The water’s so idyllic, tour guides will encourage you to taste it as you swim.
Despite bragging rights for taking the plunge, geography is the real attraction here. In Iceland’s Thingvellir National Park, the fissure is the result of two tectonic plates — North American and Eurasian — drifting apart at the rate of two centimeters a year, making this one of the only places, if not the only place in the world, where you can swim between tectonic plates. Even in winter, a current keeps the water from freezing over (and a dry suit keeps you from doing the same), but if you’re heading to Iceland with a more cold-averse partner, there’s also plenty to do in the must-see national park. Thingvellir is renowned for its hiking, horseback riding, and UNESCO-celebrated remains from the Althing, where the people of Iceland held their parliamentary assembly from 930 AD to 1798.
WHERE TO STAY:
There’s little chance you’re coming to Iceland without at least a stop in Reykjavik, but if you’re the type to dive into frigid waters in a dry suit, you’re going to adore the Ion Adventure Hotel. Right on the edge of the Thingvellir National Park, the hotel — in a landscape of lichen and dormant lava fields — caters to every adventure activity, from horseback riding to fishing to ice climbing to scuba diving in Silfra itself.
The melted rainbow. The river of five colors. The appeal of Cano Cristales isn’t complicated. It’s really, really pretty. A product of, among other factors, the Macarenia clavigera plant that turns bright shades of red on the river floor, the water flaunts a dreamlike medley of vibrant colors during a sweet spot from, usually, about May to November. If that seems restrictive, consider the area’s not-so-distant history. Just 12 or so years ago, the territory was unstable due to war between the government and Colombia’s FARC guerillas, making it completely inaccessible to tourists. The changing political landscape (and a peace accord in 2016) has turned Cano Cristales into a much more trafficked location.
Although restrictions do still apply, especially with regards to the fragile ecological situation. If you come to swim, you cannot wear sunscreen or bug spray. Reportedly, you must also come with an official guide. And the water, as beautiful as it looks in the photos, can supposedly be fickle depending on weather and the season’s rainfall. In which case, the Sierra de la Macarena National Park sports other watery delights like waterfalls and “giant’s cauldrons” (circular rock pools).
WHERE TO STAY:
You’ll most likely reach La Macarena, the base town for a journey to Cano Cristales, from Bogota — and you’d be remiss not to spend a few days luxuriating at the B.O.G. Hotel with its sophisticated lounge bar, inventive Colombian restaurant, and first-rate roof terrace.
Kawachi Fuji Gardens
Less well known than the cherry blossom phenomenon — but just as mesmerizing — another bright flower animates Japan come springtime. Wisteria, spanning the color spectrum in vibrant reds and purples, is in fact a vine, making it a natural candidate for training and draping ornamentally along a garden pathway. The Kawachi Fuji Gardens in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, use 22 varieties of wisteria to curate long tunnels of the stuff, an enchanting site worthy of every flowery superlative in the thesaurus.
Wisteria blooms just about concurrently with the cherry blossoms in Japan, making the best time to visit late April or early May. The Kawachi Fuji Gardens require a pass bought in advance, and despite the remote location, they’re still a massive draw. Perhaps even more popular, and certainly much more adjacent to Tokyo, the Ashikaga Flower Park sports its own blooming wisteria in April and May.
WHERE TO STAY:
With the Style, something of a boutique resort with just sixteen rooms and an intimacy that’s remarkable considering its bar scene, is nearly as great a reason to visit Fukuoka Prefecture as the Kawachi Fuji Gardens.
The Sea Ranch
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art currently has an exhibit dedicated to The Sea Ranch, a utopian seaside community located about 100 miles north of the city. The Sea Ranch is an idea, born out of 1960s idealism, that a collection of coastal homes could be built that fused modernist design with ecologically sensitive principles, all in aesthetic and spiritual harmony with the surrounding natural world. The result has become an icon of architecture and environmental responsibility, and a wonderful place to spend a few hours or a few weeks.
It may seem odd for us to recommend non-hotel accommodations, but we love thoughtful design, and The Sea Ranch is an inspiration in that regard. On your trip along the Northern California coast, you should plan to rent one of the Sea Ranch homes for at least a night or two. All of the houses are strategically placed for uninterrupted views of the sea, and the wood-paneled, barn-like construction style adds a timeless, nautical quality that helps slow everything down, allowing the outside world to be the main focus. If you’d like to learn more, our friends at Dwell have a wonderful article that provides further insight into the architecture and philosophies of The Sea Ranch.
WHERE TO STAY:
Timber Cove Resort is a perfect jumping-off point just south of The Sea Ranch, and even shares some aesthetic similarities. And if you’re coming down from the north, be sure to stop off at The Heritage House in Mendocino. You’re also not far from the Napa and Sonoma Valleys and all the excellent accommodations of the California wine country.