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Barbuda Princess Di beach

Barbuda Princess Di beach

As a Canadian who’s not fond of the cold, there’s a certain feeling that comes over me once the first flakes of snow have been spotted. I call it the ‘brochure feeling’. The first time I experienced it was when I was 18 and I was planning my first-ever trip – which happened to be a sunny escape down south. At that time, the only way to research a destination was by flipping through travel agency brochures, each one filled with photos of turquoise waters and white sand beaches and deciding where to go was like trying to choose only one item from an all-you-can-eat chocolate buffet!

Thirty plus years later, the brochure has been replaced with the internet, and my career in advertising has taught me that turquoise water can be photoshopped, and that suntanned couple that I saw on the cover of the Antigua brochure was the same one on the Jamaica one, and the St. Lucia one, thanks to stock photography libraries. But skepticism aside, one thing that hasn’t changed is the ‘brochure feeling’ when I see a certain special image – and I just HAVE to see that place for myself.

I’m happy to say that over the years, I’ve been inspired by, and have travelled to, all kinds of places. So with winter just around the corner, I thought now would be a good time to share a few of the sunnier ones, to help inspire you:

1. Dickenson Bay, Antigua

Yes, the water IS this colour with no need for photoshop enhancements. In fact, it’s a milky kind of turquoise, because the breezes and ocean currents stir up the sand in this particular bay on the island, making the ocean less transparent, but no less beautiful. And on one particular day, as we walked the beach without any camera, we spotted 3 gulls posing perfectly on 3 wooden piers. Disappointed that we had missed a once-in-a-lifetime photo op, we went back the next day,  this time with camera, hoping the gulls might be there again. Apparently, birds are creatures of habit, and we were able to get the photo opportunity we thought was lost forever.

Antigua gulls on piers

What are the chances you’d get 3 gulls doing the same thing at the same time? We got lucky twice in Antigua.

2. Barbuda

What could be more rare and exotic than a pink beach!!? As soon as I heard that Antigua’s sister island, Barbuda, had one of the few pink beaches in the world, I knew I had to see that one for myself, and in fact was one of the reasons why we decided to visit Antigua & Barbuda. Getting there took a bit of effort, but once we saw it for ourselves, the beach was, in fact, pink! Millions of pink shells, not sand, make this one of the more unusual beaches I’ve ever seen, and the fact that we were the only people there made it seem even more like the proverbial deserted island…maybe a little too deserted for me

Barbuda's Pink Beach

Pink Beach, aptly named, on Barbuda, where we didn’t see another soul.

3. Santa Marta, Colombia

Never mind those huge beach resort complexes that house 3,000 or more guests – how about your own private 2-level thatched hut that looks out on the ocean, with windows that can be opened 360 degrees to catch the warm breezes all night long? Tayrona Ecohabs in Colombia near Santa Marta will bring out everyone’s inner Tarzan or Jane, but with all the comforts of a home-far-away-from-home.

Colombia TAYRONA ECOHABS

Romantic and restful, spoil yourself with a visit to Tayrona’s Ecohabs on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.

4. Zanzibar, Tanzania

When you think ‘Tanzania’, you probably think giraffes and elephants, not white sand beaches – but Zanzibar, an island 30 km off the mainland, offers some of the warmest and most beautiful beaches you could ever imagine, along with some of the best dive sites off the northeast coast. (the proof of its crystal clear waters is in this photo of me ‘floating’ in my kayak, which I think definitely qualifies as ‘brochure worthy’!)

Pongwe Beach has crystal-clear waters and white sand that makes for great underwater viewing.

Pongwe Beach has crystal-clear waters and white sand that makes for great underwater viewing.

5. Kaanapali Beach, Maui

Even though Maui is very developed, and for me has a more American vibe than an exotic one, Kaanapali beach is one of the best beaches I’ve been to for a couple of reasons: soft, golden sand; clear waters where we saw colourful needlefish riding the gentle surf literally right up to our toes; and humpback whales breaching directly in front of our hotel, and whose whale song you could hear underwater as you snorkelled. (We were there in March when the whales were nearby, enroute to the Arctic.) Maui may have had a few too many McDonald’s to qualify as ‘unspoiled’, but this beach didn’t disappoint.

Kaanapali Beach Maui

Kaanapali Beach, with golden sand and humpback whales breaching while you sip on a Lava Flow cocktail.

6. Napali Coast, Kauai

More remote than Maui, the island of Kauai had me at ‘Aloha’! In fact, it was the image of one secluded beach in particular, with its signature arch (Honopu Arch) that made me want to visit Kauai specifically.

Honopu Arch, Kauai

Honopu Arch, Kauai

Unfortunately, getting to that beach was next to impossible since it was surrounded by 1200 foot high cliffs, meaning you couldn’t hike to it, and we weren’t prepared to charter a private boat for a water landing. Nonetheless, we did get to see it from a helicopter tour that took us out over the Napali Coast, one of the most spectacular coastlines you can see anywhere. We saw the same breathtaking cliffs from above, and from the water on a boating day trip, and I would highly recommend doing both if you are planning on visiting Kauai.

The Napali coast - green, lush and spectacular viewed from above, or from the water.

The Napali coast – green, lush and spectacular viewed from above, or from the water.

7. White Sands, New Mexico

For an altogether different kind of white sand experience, I have to include this destination, even though it is landlocked and nowhere near any ocean. White Sands National Monument is a white desert, but the ‘sand’ is actually crystalline gypsum grains, blown into pristine dunes that shift hourly and daily by the prevailing westerly wind. White, cool to the touch, and when the sun hits it just right, sparkly, these dunes are unlike anything you would expect to see on this planet. Even better, see them at dawn like we did, and I think you’d agree that no photo can truly do White Sands justice.

Footprints here are erased by the wind, not the ocean.

Footprints here are erased by the wind, not the ocean.

So what place still gives me that ‘brochure feeling’ whenever I see photos of it?

Bora Bora

Hands down. The name alone conjures up the exotic image of a remote island paradise, and pictures like this only add fuel to my desire to go there. (But at a per night cost of around $1,000 to stay in one of these bungalows, I’ll have to save up my pennies for a long time before I cross it off the list!)

Bora Bora bungalows

Bora Bora’s overwater bungalows. Whoever thought of this concept was a genius! (photo by Tryfon Topalidis, Wikimedia)

In the meantime, the anticipation of one day going there, whether it is in two months or ten years, is more than half the fun of travel planning, and the reason why even if the brochures are now all digital, I still get excited by what I call that ‘brochure feeling’.

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