Another year is done and dusted at Divergent Travelers. It’s hard to believe sometimes that this life we are living in is real and not just a dream.
I think back to the day in April 2013 that I hit ‘buy now’ on this domain URL and how the life we live now was a mere glimmer in our eyes. Time sure flies when you’re having fun and living your dreams.
Ever since that date, we’ve enjoyed some epic things and the year 2017 was no exception.
From the inception and launch of our mission to take on the top adventures in the world to visit places I’ve dreamed of since I was a child, and being named America’s adventure couple. It’s been a year for the books.
Of course, not without some ups and downs but that’s what life is all about.
Top 100 Travel Adventures Mission
At the beginning of 2017, we launched our mission to complete and document the Top 100 Travel Adventures in the World on Divergent Travelers giving us a clear direction in our travels and our writing.
Along with the mission came a site redesign (long overdue) and a ramped-up delivery in how we produce content when we travel.
The launch of the mission was like a breath of fresh air for us, giving us a purpose for our lifestyle and business. At the launch of the list we had completed 18 of 100 and in 2017 we crossed off 6 top adventures.
Learn more about our mission: Top 100 Travel Adventures
Outside of our occasional trips to Minneapolis during our time spent at home, we didn’t do any real traveling in Minnesota this year. The main reason it’s on the list is that we spent an abnormal amount of time in Duluth this year.
Technically, you could consider Duluth part of our hometown, since we’re from the just south of Superior, Wisconsin that shares a port with Duluth.
We typically visit Duluth to go shopping or eat out. However in 2017, we spent 4 days week, every time we were home, driving to Duluth so we could do CrossFit.
We figured if we’re going to take on the top adventures in the world, we needed to focus on fitness in 2017 and we haven’t looked back.
Becoming something of an annual tradition, we made another visit to New York City in January to attend the New York Times Travel Show, the largest travel show in the country.
Except for this year we didn’t just attend the show, we attended as speakers. Sitting on a panel with other professionals in our industry, we gave a presentation about working with travel bloggers to promote travel and destinations.
It was a huge success and * spoiler * we’ve been invited back again in 2018.
New York City is great and while we’re technically there for work, we always try to spend some time exploring the city.
It wasn’t until February that we headed for the warmth of the Caribbean. We ran a successful photograph tour to Cuba, a place that stole our hearts in 2016.
Our small group experienced the sights, sounds, rhythm, and groove that Cuba has to offer and captured some amazing photos along the way.
We visited Havana, Vinales, Bay of Pigs, Trinidad and Cayo Blanco. Working with a brilliant operator, we were able to show our group a side of Cuba that well exceeded their expectations.
I have to say, the second visit was better than the first and we’re looking forward to another visit in the near future.
Read more about Cuba:
While it’s hard to pick a favorite place when you’ve traveled so widely, Alaska certainly rates up there.
We decided to seize an opportunity to cruise the Inside Passage that ultimately led to us spending a month exploring much of what Alaska has to offer.
We planned five days in the capital city before our cruise without really knowing what to expect, however, the minute our plane started descending on the city we fell in love.
Juneau is blessed with a huge expanse of glacial cut mountains and thick wilderness, none of which is accessible by roads. This makes it hold a rustic charm you can’t find in any other capital in the USA.
We jam-packed our days with miles of hiking, a 42-mile road trip, canoeing, ice cave exploration, glacier hiking, flightseeing over the Juneau Ice Field, salmon bakes, downtown wandering and stuffing our faces with Alaska Brewing and fish n’ chips.
Saying goodbye to Juneau we hopped aboard UnCruise and spent seven days cruising one of the jewels of Alaska, the Inside Passage.
We kayaked in Glacier Bay National Park, whale watched, bushwhacked through forests where few have walked, stared at the face of the Marjorie Glacier, sailed Endicotts Arm and spent an entire day kayaking to a remote beach where we watched Eagles soar.
This part of the world packs so much punch.
After leaving the cruise we caught a flight to Anchorage, rented a car and made the 7-hour drive north to Fairbanks.
Here we based ourselves for six days while we checked out Chena Hot Springs, road tripped up the Dalton Highway to Coldfoot while crossing the Arctic Circle, visited Gates of the Arctic National Park- the least visited National Park in the USA, sat on Santa’s lap at the North Pole, panned for gold and sailed on the Riverboat Discovery.
It was an immersive experience into the history of Northern Alaska where we learned about native cultures, the gold rush, and dog sledding.
DENALI NATIONAL PARK
Leaving Fairbanks we began the trip south towards the Kenai Peninsula, but not without stopping in the famous Denali National Park, home to the highest peak in the USA.
While I celebrated my 34th birthday in the nation’s least-visited park while in the Arctic, we celebrated in Denali at a local bar. We also helicoptered into a remote section of Denali State Park and spent hours hiking by compass in the backcountry.
Rounding out our trip to Alaska was a trip to Lake Clark National Park – third least visited National Park in the USA- to spend three days at the world recognized Bear Camp owned by Great Alaska Adventures.
It is without a doubt the best place in the world to view Brown Bears and in our three days, we saw hundreds of them.
Top photographers from all over the world travel here to photograph the bears and Disney filmed their hit Bears using this camp as their base. It was also our first Top 100 Travel Adventure that crossed off in 2017.
After returning from Alaska we repacked and turned around in four days for a trip to Asheville, North Carolina.
We’ve done a lot of international travel but following our visit to Alaska, we’ve realized there are a lot of really great places to adventure in the USA too.
Arriving in Asheville, we spent five action-packed days hiking, rock climbing, road tripping, rivereering, and bellyaking. It was beautiful and a ton of fun, not to mention that Asheville has a fantastic vibe, great restaurants, and fun breweries to frequent after you’ve spent the day adventuring.
Not stopping with North Carolina, we took an opportunity to road trip the best of Southwest Virginia two days after our trip to Asheville. I won’t lie, May and June were crazy hectic but we loved every minute of it.
In Virginia, we rented a car at the Roanoke airport and spent the next six days horseback riding the Grayson Highlands, biking the Creeper Trail, hiking on the Appalachian Trail, sleeping in haunted colonial houses, discovering The Channels, fishing on the New River and chasing waterfalls in Cascades National Recreational Area.
Wow, Virginia, you have so much more to offer than Civil War history.
Home sweet home. No matter how much we travel, Wisconsin will always be home to us and this year, we spent the summer at home for the first time since 2013.
After the back-to-back travel schedule that took us to Alaska, North Carolina, and Virginia, we needed a break.
Wisconsin is staggeringly beautiful in the summer so I can’t say we were complaining.
However, it was far from a relaxing six weeks with both my sister and brother visiting from out of state during the 4th of July and me undergoing major surgery at the end of June that I had put off for too long.
As soon as my doctor cleared me we were off again, ultimately en route to Fiji but not without a stop in California to visit my brother and break up the trip. We landed in Los Angeles and played tourists while attending Medieval Times before driving to Temecula, our base for four days.
Since my brother is stationed in South California, we’ve been several times the past few years but it’s always fun to beach hop, drive to San Diego and visit the theme parks.
I couldn’t have done the trip straight from Wisconsin to Fiji in one sitting, so being able to break it up in California was perfect for us.
Who doesn’t want to visit Fiji, right? It’s been on my list since the first time I saw a photo in a travel magazine. I’ve always wanting to island-hop and play on the white sand beaches of the South Pacific and 2017 was the year it finally happened.
In January of 2017, I was awarded three Gold Medals from the North America Travel Journalist Association for my photography (woot, woot!) and one of the prizes for this feat was a stay at the Koro Sun Resort in Vanua Levu, Fiji.
Oh darn, an excuse to visit the tropics. Knowing it’s a long flight and that I would need a slower schedule due to my recovery, we planned three brilliant weeks of island hopping.
When we arrived at the airport in Savusavu, the staff of the Koro Sun Resort greeted us and welcomed us to the real Fiji.
Six days based on Fiji’s second-largest island, in a waterfront bungalow, was the perfect way to recover from the jet lag. We spent our days lounging, snorkeling, kayaking, standup paddleboarding, biking, and hiking.
Hopping the ferry and saying goodbye to Vanua Levu, we headed for Taveuni. Known as Fiji’s garden island, we were there to chase waterfalls and hike in the lush rainforests of the island.
We also spent some time scuba diving, hiking the Lavena Coastal Trail, playing in waterslides, indulging in kava, marveling at meke and learning about the cannibal culture from the local tribes.
From an adventure perspective, it was easily our favorite island.
A short boat ride from Taveuni is the romantic Qamea Island. Well known as a honeymoon retreat, we indulged our luxury bone a bit at the Qamea Island Resort.
We had a private apartment complete with a back deck, a private pool, and a Jacuzzi tub. The snorkeling off the beach was second only to the Yasawa islands and we enjoyed slower days of shore kayaking, beach walking, and delicious meals.
Onwards to Fiji’s most visited island and a stop in Pacific Harbour. Looking to cross another Top 100 Travel Adventure off the list, we hit the water on the Upper Navua River with a stunning white water rafting trip.
Besides the day we went rafting, the other two days were nothing but heavy rain, so we ended up chilling here rather than hitting the water.
Last but not least, we headed to the famous Yasawa Islands for five days of white sand beaches and turquoise water.
With the weather on our side, we enjoyed several days at the Blue Lagoon – where they filmed the movie, many snorkeling trips, hiking around the islands and a day trip to the Sawa I Lau cave system at the northernmost part of the island chain.
After heading back to Nadi we opted for one last day trip to the famous Cloud Nine where we spent the day indulging on pizza, Fiji beer and swimming in the translucent waters of the South Pacific before boarding our red-eye flight back to the states.
A drastic change from Fiji, we spent two weeks unpacking, repacking and preparing for another long haul trip. This time across the world to Central Asia for our first visit to Kyrgyzstan. Talk about an eye-opener, we enjoyed 14 days exploring the northeast corner of the country.
We attended the Manas Games, learned about Dead Goat Polo, observed Eagle hunters in action, attended a festival, hiked and camped in the Tian Shan mountains, trekked on horseback, explored ancient burials, marveled at rock art and ate more food then I care to admit.
We spent much of our trip in a daze, we didn’t expect to like the country so much but the truth is told, and we cannot wait to return.
Following that crazy summer, we were on the fence about how much traveling we wanted to do over the Fall months. We had planned to attend a conference in Salta, Argentina and I guess you could say that our plans just snowballed from there.
South America has eluded us since 2012 so we got a little carried away by all the good stuff on offer and ended up spending two solid months exploring.
Being another Top 100 Travel Adventure, we couldn’t resist a hiking and camping trip in Argentine Patagonia to cross the Basecamps Trek off our list. So we flew from the states to El Chalten, it ended up being five flight legs and a total of 30 hours before we settled in for some sleep.
The first thing we did was spend a day hiking 10K at the Perito Moreno Glacier before heading to El Chalten to begin our mountain trekking.
The weather was unbelievable and the region blew our mind. We are officially looking forward to our trekking on the Chilean side.
SALTA TO ATACAMA TRAVESIA
Leaving from Salta we embarked on a pretty cool journey with a company called Explora. Their overland Travesia is a nine-day journey across remote areas of NW Argentina, across the high Andean Altiplano ultimately ending in the Atacama Desert at their luxury property.
We easily hiked 10 miles a day at varying altitudes, even crossing the Abra del Acay Pass at 5,000 meters. It was a transformative journey that we’re glad to have experienced.
Since we were here for a conference, we didn’t spend a lot of time exploring. The city is quite charming through and one of the days we split up and took day trips to see a bit more.
I went to Jujuy for a gander at the colored mountains and classic markets while David headed towards the Andes visiting a couple of UNESCO heritage sites.
Beyond that, we didn’t see much else but rest assured we ate too many empanadas and drank too much wine.
The Atacama Desert is something else though and we spent three days horseback riding over sand dunes, summiting the 5604 meter Cerro Toco, visiting bright-colored Geysers and hiking near enormous salt lagoons in the mountains.
Santiago for us was a stopover only and a chance for us to catch our breath before heading to Easter Island.
We hold up in a hotel downtown and did nothing but process photos, catch up on emails and nap. I know that is a shame but I am confident we’ll be back to see more of Santiago.
Technically part of Chile, it’s a place that deserves its own section in this roundup. Located in the South Pacific, it’s the most remote place on Earth.
I remember sitting in the living room of my parent’s house, with my Dad, as a young child watching documentaries about the wonders of the World.
We’d watch specials on Easter Island in awe and wonder out loud to each other about the mystery of such a place.
So you can imagine the overwhelming feeling I had as our plane touched down on that island and I set foot in the places I’ve seen on TV since I was young.
Like most popular places, Easter Island gets a lot of hype and I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to the expectations I had for it.
Much to my surprise, it did. Rapa Nui National Park is one of the few places I have been that exceeded my expectations.
After nine days of exploration, I think I left with way more questions than I arrived with and that’s pretty special. I would return in a heartbeat. Even if it is a tiny island and I’ve already explored all the nooks and crannies.
Rounding out 2017 was our last stop in South America, Ecuador.
We didn’t waste any time heading directly to the Galapagos Islands to cross our final Top 100 Travel Adventure off the list for the year.
In doing so we spent 14 days traversing the very best that the Galapagos Islands has to offer with the opulent services of the Sea Star yacht. I took 7,500 photos and that doesn’t include the GoPro photos. I haven’t asked David how much video he has…
Leaving the Galapagos was hard, we formed lasting relationships with the crew on our ship and the trip was as epic as one could hope for such a bucket list item. It’s another place we’d return to, even after already seeing most that it has to offer.
The notorious capital of Ecuador where we spent a day touring colonial churches, walking huge squares, making chocolate, sipping coffee, shopping for alpaca scarves and getting amazing views of the city by night.
It’s a higher altitude city that is surrounded by immense nature and I feel like our visit only scratched the surface.
YASUNI BIORESERVE – AMAZON RAINFOREST
Lastly, we took the 30-minute flight from Quito to the small jungle town of Coca and set off into the Amazon Rainforest for six days with the Napo Wildlife Center.
Accessing the lodge is taxing with a 2-hour motorboat ride up the Napo River followed by a 2.5-hour canoe paddle through the black water system before arriving at their award-winning eco-lodge.
It’s literally in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest. Everything about the Napo Wildlife Center is special, from being owned by a local tribe to employing only people from the Amazon to work at the center, not to mention the surrounding flora and fauna.
It’s a first-class experience in the densest jungle in the world. We spent our days hiking and canoeing in search of animals.
We saw many species of monkey we haven’t seen before, lots of bright colored birds including parrots and macaws, endangered Giant Otters and even an 18 foot Black Anaconda.
It was a classic South America experience and the perfect way to round out our year of incredible travels.
Onwards to 2018
So what’s next? We feel very strongly that 2017 was a building year for us and we have so much steam built up going into 2018. It’s going to be a good one and we’re so thankful to have you along for the ride.
You can expect more adventures in both far-flung places and closer to home. We have a reignited passion to explore more of our home country.
We’re also continuing our mission and will be crossing off many more Top 100 Adventures, so stay tuned, there’s some pretty epic stuff going on our calendar as we speak.
In the meantime, keep an eye out on our Facebook page and other social accounts for more photos and videos from an epic 2017. Happy New Year!
-Lina & David
Note to readers: We departed on our around the world (RTW) trip on February 21, 2014. We traveled full-time, backpacking across 6 continents for the next 2 years. Since 2016, we travel 7-10 months out of every year creating content and telling stories for this website. It’s been a wild ride!
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