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San Cristóbal to Zanzibar: My 5 best travel experiences

Our co-editor Trine shares her favorite places in the world.
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San Cristóbal to Zanzibar: My 5 best travel experiences is written by Trine Søgaard

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The best destinations – from San Cristóbal to Zanzibar

I am sometimes asked what the best destination is that I have visited. It sets off a flurry of thoughts, because I have gradually experienced a few corners of the world, and that makes it difficult to choose.

Here are the five best places I've visited and one I don't want to go back to.

Trine Søgaard Mexico San Cristobal

San Cristobal, Mexico

The long bus ride up to the town of San Cristóbal i Mexico literally takes us up above the clouds along winding roads. It turns out to be all worth it, and as the fresh mountain air hits our faces, the collective motion sickness is instantly cured.

We have just arrived in San Cristóbal, located more than 2000 meters up the Sierra Madre mountain range in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Here, the cool weather is an invigorating contrast to the country's tropical climate.

San Cristóbal is founded by the Spanish conquistadors, whose relics in great style live on in the charming architecture to this day. Here, a walk down the narrow cobbled streets is an experience in itself.

The Mexican love of colors puts its personal stamp on San Cristóbal, a former colonial city: Colors. Everywhere. A city painted like a rainbow. Wow. A fascinating and slightly surreal sight for a Scandinavian like me.

But I immediately understand why San Cristóbal in particular has had such an enormous appeal to travelers over time. These low and lively buildings form the framework of the city's social space, where small shops lie side by side along the streets.

Here, the Maya Indians sell finely woven clothing, ceramics and fabric, where you can really challenge your negotiation skills. Or you can enjoy an afternoon at Café Carajillo, which is especially known for its exquisite coffee.

The surroundings of San Cristóbal are at least as fascinating as the city itself and are definitely worth exploring. A day trip away is Palenque - a Mayan ruin located in the tropical jungle.

With its hieroglyphs and mysterious temples, Palenque has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for years. It's worth seeing. Check.

But if you are more into speed than history - or just a good combination like myself - then a boat trip on Sumidero Canyon will be obvious. The wide river meanders between 1000 meter high rock walls, and you can spot crocodiles and birds from the boat.

Overall, San Cristóbal is a fantastic city that I can only recommend.

Stonetown Zanzibar Africa

Stone Town, Zanzibar

“Mzungu!” shouts the little African boy as he points at me and disappears through the door of his mother's shop, giggling. After almost four months on Zanzibar in Tanzania I no longer take it personally that the locals still call me the white despite my gradually quite tanned skin.

On the contrary, it evokes a smile, for I have fallen deeply in love with this island and not least the small capital, Stone Town. The old town is a jumble of narrow streets that wind in and out of each other, and together form the labyrinth I have so often gotten lost in.

The city's architecture is a melting pot of beautiful Anglo - Saxon, Arabic and Indian styles, which tells the story of the island's changing dominions.

Although the calendar says spring, the tropical climate may feel suffocatingly hot on some days. It sets a sluggish pace on the coastal town's population. Pole pole they say if one becomes impatient. Take it easy.

As the sun slowly disappears into the azure ocean, the temperature drops slightly and makes it bearable. The smell of freshly baked bread, grilled fish and vegetables is slowly starting to spread from Forodhani Food Market.

This large food mecca on the quay is a culinary gathering place for locals and visitors who enjoy the evening's meal while laughing on wobbly plastic chairs. At this moment, I have a hard time imagining the city's bloody past.

Many years ago was Stone Town namely the gathering point for the majority of the world's slave trade. A guided tour of the Angelican Cathedral gives a modest insight into this harrowing history, where graphic depictions and preserved slave chambers in the crypt are an experience for the not so delicate.

When the heat and the hectic infrastructure of the city become too overwhelming, you can sail 6 km to the small island of Changuu, which is also called Prison Island - 'Prison Island'.

The island is surrounded by crystal clear sea, and the prison ruins that once housed rebel slaves still stand. But what I think makes this visit most special are the island's inhabitants - the hundred-year-old giant tortoises that lazily wander around among the visitors.

China Xian

Xi'an, China

After spending a week and a half in the chaotic environment of Beijing, the train ride away from the city is a much needed respite. At just over 300 km/h, the modern high-speed train flies through the flat fields in China.

It seems strangely mesmerizing to the passengers of the train, silently observing the empty landscape. Five hours later, we get off at the platform in Xi'an, and reality hits us again.

With a population of almost 12 million, this city is also densely packed with people and heavy traffic everywhere. But I notice it instantly. Unlike Beijing, the air seems clear and the smell of exhaust is almost non-existent.

On the way to our hotel, the bus takes us through the city, where modern high-rise buildings form the framework of Xi'an's beautiful city center - a jumble of narrow streets dominated by the traditional gray brick walls, red house doors and open park areas, where locals practice Thai chi on the lawns . The district is surrounded by Chengqiang, the ancient and well-preserved city wall, which we later chose to explore on rented tandem bikes.

Xi'an is not only China's former capital, but also the starting point of the Silk Road - the ancient trade route that connected Asia and Europe. Merchants made a pilgrimage here from the Arab countries and settled in what is today known as Muslim Street.

We laboriously move down this very same street that smells of grilled lamb and pan-fried dumplings. The culinary clash of Chinese flavor variations and Arabic spices together create a unique dining experience I remember as one of my best in China.

Although the areas around Xi'an offer magnificent mountain scenery, we chose to take the bus out to the city's most famous attraction: the Terracotta Warriors. Despite the fact that the place exuded a bit of tourist trap, it was still quite impressive to see the more than 8000 statues that have guarded Emperor Qin Shihuang's mausoleum for centuries.

Australia byron bay surf

Byron Bay, Australia

Like backpacking on Australiens east coast, I often let myself be told that this small seaside town was a place I should look forward to visiting with my friends. But when the bus dropped us off on the main street, at first glance I was a bit confused.

Byron Bay is neither magnificent nor particularly cohesive when it comes to architecture, and the city has clear traffic problems. I had a hard time understanding the fascination. But I had to quickly come up with other thoughts.

Byron Bay is not a city you travel to to see, but rather to feel. After just a few hours, the barn's barn appearance becomes irrelevant, because beneath the surface simmers a longing for the bygone, peaceful life of the hippie era - and it is contagious.

Over time, the city has become a rallying point for modern rebels, who in revolt against "8 to 16 life" have traveled from all over the world to experience this laid-back lifestyle.

Here, creativity flourishes clearly and unfolds as art shops, colorful graffiti around the city, street music and not least alternative clothing choices among locals and visitors.

Over the days, we rented a surfboard and jointly carried the heavy board out to Clarke's Beach. The town empties into a bay, and this part of the beach is just one of many places where the conditions make it obvious to test your surfing skills in the dark blue sea.

Later that evening we walked up the road to the Cape Byron Lighthouse to watch the sunset. The lighthouse is located on a mountain top, where the impressive view of the city, the countryside and havet is worth the walk.

If you follow a winding path behind the tower and out onto a headland, you will also see the mark that marks Australia's easternmost point.

After Australia, I gained weight New Zealand, which is also a fantastic travel destination - also as solo travelers.

France Alsace Riquewihr

Riquewihr, France

Some of my friends will probably refer to me as a francophile, for my love for this country will never end. The food, the wine, the music, the countryside, the lifestyle - there's just something about France. Therefore, it is probably not so mysterious that my last destination is in the northeastern Alsace area.

Not far from the border with Germany is the small medieval town of Riquewihr, which has a modest population of 1300 inhabitants. When I first move in through the city gate, I have no doubt why the place is something special.

The cobbled main street is surrounded by colorful half-timbered houses, where equally colorful flowers spill out of the balcony boxes under the wooden windows.

A small maze of narrow alleys, all decorated in the same style, leads away from the main street, waiting to be explored by the visitors. The city's romantic and well-preserved surroundings are breathtaking, and give an unreal feeling of having stepped into something reminiscent of an adventure.

As darkness descends into the evening, people flock to the city's eateries. Despite its size, Riquewihr houses a number of exquisite restaurants where The Gourmet Table's kitchen is even awarded a Michelin star, and is worth a visit for the food lovers.

Riquewihr is surrounded by hilly countryside and green vineyards, which make a simple drive in the area a whole attraction. The idyllic overall impression does not come as a surprise that the city is on the list of the most beautiful cities in France. And it is also something very special.

Bali beach plastic

Bali, a plastic paradise

My impression of Bali in Indonesia is certainly not bad, and yet the world-famous island has landed as the destination I don't need to come back to.

When I tell about my trip, people listen intensely and respond that it sounds like a wonderful experience, and it was. It is something very special to drink your morning on a wooden veranda overlooking the jungle and volcanoes that slowly appear as the morning ice eases.

It is amazing to experience the island's hot springs, sacred water temples and the tranquil existence of the Balinese, where all chores are performed as rituals. The sunset over Ubud's wet rice fields, where sky and earth stand in the same fiery red colors, is breathtaking.

Everything here seems zen. But reality also hits me pretty quickly, as one thing in particular is impossible to ignore. Bali is the victim of the global mass production of waste and plastic that is literally flowing everywhere.

When driving along the potholed country roads, the small streams under the bridges are almost clogged with plastic. When walking around the cities, there is plastic in the gutters. But most of all, it is the seas around the island that are really suffering.

The golden coastlines slowly disappear beneath mountains of plastic debris, which wash up with the tide. It hurts to watch for a nature lover like me - so much so that it keeps me from going back and seriously sets my mind on my own environmental awareness.

At my hotel in northeast Bali, I watched an event where a group of children received school books as a reward for having collected 1,5 tons of garbage together on the beach. It puts the scale of the problem into perspective. 

Although I think there are still many reasons to visit Bali, one visit was enough for me for precisely these reasons. One can only hope, however, that the island will one day regain its golden beaches and that the beautiful and lush nature can remain unspoiled.

day-of-the-dead Mexico San Cristóbal

San Cristóbal – and the world

Have a great trip out into the world – whether you choose San Cristóbal or one of my other favorites.

About the author

Trine Søgaard, co-editor

Trine is a co-editor, and has a degree in communication from AAU - and she is extremely fond of travelling. Her passion for traveling shows in the length of the list of countries visited, where she has also lived in Australia and Zanzibar. In her spare time, Trine is creative and spends a lot of energy on photography. Her joy in documenting her experiences has since paid off, as a publication in e.g. Lonely Planet was the springboard for wanting to work in the travel industry.

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