Posted by jaelithe on 20 Feb, 2013
Your honeymoon is a once-in-lifetime vacation, and while some brides might be happy to just flop down in the sun next to some pool, you have an opportunity to enjoy incredible experiences, people, and destinations that will make your honeymoon so much more memorable. Michael Cottam created TheBigDay honeymoon registry website in 2001; today, he’s president of Visual Itineraries, which provides travel planning tools for amazing destinations all over the world. From his work with thousands of customers at TheBigDay, and his own travels, he’s compiled this list of his top 10 honeymoon spots.
Probably the most recognizable views in the Caribbean are the Pitons, lush green traffic-cone shaped mountains just south of Soufriere Bay. With wonderful Caribbean culture and food, rain forest hikes and canopy rides, great scuba diving and snorkeling, and sailing and powerboating, there’s a ton to see and do here when you finally get tired of sunning yourselves on the gorgeous beaches.
St. Lucia has some world-class resorts, from the stunning architecture and luxury of Jade Mountain to the unique & boutique Ladera and The Hotel Chocolat (both were once part of Rabot Estate, one of Soufrière’s oldest and most famous cocoa plantations). And if you like both ziplining AND champagne, check out Cap Maison: they’ve built a wooden deck on Rock Maison, surrounded on 3 sides by the sea surging over the reefs. You’ll access it via a wooden staircase, but your drinks travel down a zip-line to the deck below.
A terrific destination for eco-adventures with the Belize Barrier Reef, over 450 offshore islands (“Cayes”), great rivers for kayaking and rafting, excellent diving and snorkeling, and amazing bird-watching and wildlife-spotting in the many jungle reserves. There are Mayan ruins as well, and hundreds of cave systems for adventurous explorers.
Where to stay? Director Francis Ford Coppola owns Blancaneaux Lodge, a 20-room luxury villa tucked away in the jungle amidst waterfalls and stalactite caves. Coppola also owns Turtle Inn, a boutique beach resort near Placencia, with only 25 rooms. Or choose an island resort like Thatch Caye Resort, inside the protected South Water Caye Marine Reserve, two miles away from the second largest reef in the western world. For privacy and luxury, consider Cayo Espanto, a luxury island beach resort three miles from San Pedro in the calm waters of the Western Caribbean. With only 7 beach villas–you might not see another hotel guest the entire day.
It’s like a cross between Bora Bora and India. Typically, resorts are one-to-an-island, on a double chain of 26 atolls off the southeastern tip of India. Like Bora Bora, overwater bungalows abound–the exotic food and culture draws from neighboring India. It’s a fantastic place for scuba diving and snorkeling (ever seen a whale shark?), and like Bora Bora, it’s uncrowded and private. And if you don’t really want to swim with the fishies but still want to see them, then check out the Conrad Hilton Rangali Island, whose restaurant Ithaa is a glass underwater tube. If you’re looking for pampering, there are plenty of island resorts that have their own spa, but the Four Seasons Maldives Resort’s spa has its own island. Other fabulous resorts to think about: Baros, One & Only Reethi Rah, and Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru.
Bora Bora is awesome, with the overwater bungalows and Mount Otemanu–in the center of the lagoon–is an incredible jagged knife-edge of a mountain that almost doesn’t look real. Bora Bora can be expensive, however, with overwater bungalows often running over $1000/night. But there’s a way to make this more affordable, and in fact have an even better experience and see some of Moorea and Papeete as well.
Most of the hotels on Bora Bora are owned by companies that also have hotels on Moorea and on Tahiti Nui (the main island, where Papeete, the international airport is). And these companies commonly offer specials that include one night in Papeete, and then maybe 3 nights in Moorea and 3 in Bora Bora. And the garden bungalows are pretty amazing as well, so you can choose to stay in those on one of the islands, and in an overwater only on Bora Bora or Moorea, and save around $200-$300 per night on those nights you’re in a garden bungalow. As well, there’s actually more to see and do on Moorea, with some great hiking and viewpoints, a golf course, etc. My favorite combo would be the 3 Pearl Resorts properties: Bora Bora Pearl Resort & Spa, Moorea Pearl Resort & Spa, and Manava Suite Resort Tahiti.
Seychelles + Kenya
Ok, so it’s not ONE destination, but if you’re going to fly halfway around the world to visit one of these, you might as well see the other and have a safari + tropical beach kind of experience.
The Seychelles is a collection of tropical islands smack in the middle of the Indian Ocean; the food is French/Creole, people speak French, English, and Creole, and the islands remind one of Fiji or Tahiti. Some of the outer islands offer amazing privacy–Desroches, for instance, is about 200 miles from the “main” islands of the Seychelles, so if you’re out fishing or scuba diving and you see another boat then it’s probably your imagination, because the resort’s got one boat and you’re on it. Kate and William stayed here on their honeymoon, and no, it’s not as expensive as you might think. It’s one resort with about 40 rooms on an island 2 miles long. And every room comes with a pair of bicycles, so don’t pass up the chance to ride up the island and see the giant tortoises and swim at the incredible Aquarium Beach (when I was there, we were the only people on the 1/4-mile long beach).
On the main island, Mahé, the Banyan Tree stands out as the creme de la creme, with separate villas for each guest tucked into the jungle hillside, each with its own plunge pool and sundeck. On Praslin, there’s the dramatic Lemuria Resort. And while you’re on the island, be sure to visit the Valle de Mai, where the Coco de Mer palm trees grow (the only place in the world where they do). These palm trees are famous because of the giant coconuts they produce that look like…well, I’ll just let you Google it and say “OMG.”
In Kenya, spend a few nights in the honeymoon villa perched on the edge of the rock in the middle of Meru National Park at Elsa’s Kopje, where “Born Free” was filmed. See the wildlife migration in the Masai Mara from a luxury tented camp like Elephant Pepper. Stop overnight in Nairobi before you head home, and stay at the amazing House of Waine hotel in the Karen district (named for Karen Blixen, made famous by “Out of Africa”).
If you like adventure, amazing scenery, the coolest and most interesting people in the world, and don’t mind amazing food and wine, then this land was made for your honeymoon. Jet boat rides, bungee jumping, incredible helicopter and air tours, a vintage steamship that sails out of Queenstown on Lake Wakatipu, and amazing backcountry hiking, camping and fishing. A good way to do New Zealand is to either rent a campervan and sleep in that or rent a car and do a mix of hotels and pitch the occasional tent in a “holiday park” (Kiwi for campground).
When in Queenstown, take the gondola up to the top of the mountain for insane views of the lake and the town (and a fine martini, by the way!); check out lakes Wanaka and Hawea–on the latter you can catch trout that would put most salmon to shame. The Marlborough region offers over 40 vineyards (famous for sauvignon blancs, but also some great pinot noir and pinot gris) and the opportunity to kayak, swim, or dive with dolphins. On the north island, visit Lake Taupo, created 2,000 years ago by a volcanic eruption that clouded the skies in China and Europe. And see the nearby Huka Falls, which is the country’s most visited attraction. Rotorua has hot springs and mud geysers and an opportunity to visit a Maori village.
The combination of art, architecture, history, food, and wine is pretty hard to beat. And really, how much more romantic can you get than a gondola ride through Venice? Piazza San Marcos, the Doges Palace, St. Mark’s Basilics, hop a boat over to Murano to see the glass-blowing artisans, and if you’re ever going to splurge on a hotel then you should consider a few nights at Hotel Luna Baglioni (right on the canal). In Florence you’ve of course got Uffizi and Accademia and Brunelleschi’s Dome, but also Pisa and Cinqueterre aren’t far away. And you’ll find a ton of 1-session cooking schools. Tuscany is gorgeous, and you can tour it by bike or even some of it on horseback. In Rome, there’s the classics like the Vatican, the Coliseum, and the Sistine Chapel.
The perfect combination I think would be 2 or 3 days in Bangkok, 3 or 4 days in the upcountry, and then 3 or 4 days at the beaches in either Phuket or Koh Samui. Bangkok has a reputation for being a bit rough, and it’s probably deserved–but there’s some gems there that make it worth it. Even if you’re not much into palaces, cathedrals, etc., trust me: don’t miss the Grand Palace, Wat Po, Wat Arun, the Reclining Buddha, and a visit to the floating market (and if you’re brave, a ride on one of the longboats up the Chao Praya to visit the Snake Farm).
The upcountry has a milder climate and the Thai countryside is quite beautiful, with opportunities to get up close and personal with elephants and monkeys and a choice of many Thai cooking schools. In Chiang Mai, the Four Seasons and the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi are both spectacular resorts, and in Chiang Rai the Anantara Golden Triangle Resort & Spa is pretty fabulous too. Next, it’s beach time: both Phuket and Koh Samui have great beaches, snorkeling, and diving–some of the best scuba diving I’ve done anywhere in the world, in fact, was out of Phuket. Visit the Phi Phi (“brothers”) islands, and the James Bond Island, where they shot the 1974 Bond film “The Man with the Golden Gun.” In Koh Samui, consider the Six Senses resort, the Anantara Bophut, or the Four Seasons. In Phuket, there are a ton of wonderful resorts–definitely consider the Banyan Tree and also the Sarojin (which is in Phang Nga, pretty close to Phuket).
While most of Hawaii’s hotels have many, many rooms, and the beaches tend to be flooded with vacationers, if you’re honeymooning and want something more private then check out Travaasa Hana on the eastern coast of Maui. Combine 3 to 4 nights there with a few nights in the Lahaina/Kaanapali area, where you get an opportunity to snorkel, scuba dive, go to a luau, and maybe some surfing lessons or parasailing. Lahainatown is a tourist town, yes–but it’s pretty cool, with lots of history and things to see and do. Be sure to make dinner reservations at Lahaina Grill, which has won the Honolulu magazine reader’s poll for best restaurant on Maui for 20 years in a row.
Gorgeous, exotic, and romantic. Rich in culture and blessed with world-class scuba diving and surfing, there’s a lot to see and do here–whether you’re living it up in 5-star retreats, or backpacking your way around. Balinese dance and music are worth experiencing, and if you’re looking for interesting architecture and history you’ll find some among the 20,000 temples on the island. This is another destination where, for variety, I recommend splitting your time between two different areas. Ubud in the south foothills is the art and dance center; great places to stay there include the Viceroy Bali Resort and Spa, Maya Ubud, Komaneka at Bisma, Komaneka at Tanggayuda, and Ubud Hanging Gardens. For your beach time, you’ll want to be down around the southern peninsula–there, consider the Oberoi, the Four Seasons, the St. Regis, or the W Retreat & Spa.
This guest post was written by Michael Cottam, an avid traveler, photographer, and scuba diver. When he’s not helping travel agents and their clients at Visual Itineraries, or traveling himself, he enjoys exploring his home state of Oregon with his son Benjamin–either on foot, in a boat, or in their Piper Cherokee.