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From gorilla trekking in Rwanda to nights out in Nashville

by Staff

WE have travelled far and wide this year to provide you – our wonderful readers – with holiday inspiration and tips.

The Sun Travel team has ticked off bucket-list trips, amazing first-time experiences and much more to show you the best trips out there.

Here, we reveal our favourites from 2023.

Lisa in Rwanda

FOR me, 2023 was a year of amazing animal encounters.

Back in March I joined British Airways’ inaugural flight to Guyana.

I went gorilla trekking in Rwanda this yearCredit: Supplied
I was surprised at how close you could get to the beastsCredit: Supplied

The only English-speaking country in South America, it’s a land of pristine rainforests, awe-inspiring waterfalls and fascinating wildlife.

Even in the capital Georgetown, its botanic gardens are home to a dizzying array of birdlife.

We spotted everything from macaws to toco toucans.

But it is when you travel into the interior that the real animal magic appears.

Flying over hundreds of miles of rainforest, we spent two nights at Karanambu Lodge.

Once a family-run cattle ranch, it is now an eco-tourism success story with former guests including David Attenborourgh and naturalist Gerald Durrell.

While the giant otters that make their home on the Rupununi River remained elusive, cowboys led us on a successful search for the giant anteater.

Less welcome wildlife included the bat that dive-bombed my mosquito-netted bed in the early hours and had to be encouraged to leave my hut.

But November saw me tick off one of my all-time bucket-list adventures – gorilla trekking in Rwanda.

As the capital Kigali played host to the first World Travel & Tourism Council summit in Africa, we were fortunate to be given permits to trek in the Volcanoes National Park.

While it can take hours to search for the wild mountain gorillas, arriving in the wet season meant the Susa family were feasting on the bamboo found at the base of the national park.

You get one precious hour with the primates as you observe them in their natural habitat just feet from you.

From the mighty silverback male, through boisterous juveniles to the proud mothers and their babies, the experienced guides know every member of the family intimately and recount their stories as you look on in awe.

For me, the suprise was how close you got to these creatures – they are so relaxed in human company they amble past you.

An incredible experience I’ve waited a lifetime for.

Lisa Minot, Head of Travel

The Guyana rainforest was teeming with wildlifeCredit: Supplied

GO: Rwanda

Permits for gorilla trekking cost around £1,200pp.

For info, see visitrwanda.com.

Sophie on her Caribbean cruise

UNTIL this year, I’d never visited the Caribbean nor been on a cruise, but in 2023 I ticked both off in one hit.

In March, P&O Cruises’ new 18-deck ship, Arvia, set sail for Barbados for a naming ceremony on a white sand beach with shows from Olly Murs and the ship’s godmother, Nicole Scherzinger.

My Caribbean cruise had luxury and excursions aplentyCredit: Supplied

Having now visited seven Caribbean countries in just a few days, I can say with certainty that the locals make a mean rum-punch, which is best drunk while sunning yourself on a catamaran in the clear ocean.

The cruise has shore excursions aplenty – think rum-tasting (yes, more rum), snorkelling with turtles and dining in a mountain-top restaurant that offers unbeatable views of St Lucia’s mighty Pitons.

When it comes to summer getaways, though, I prefer to go short haul.

There’s a reason Spain often tops the list as Brits’ fave holiday destination each year and you can’t go wrong with a week in Ibiza.

Seafood restaurants serving sizzling lobster caught a few hours earlier, beachfront bars with sheltered cabanas and an untameable nightlife scene are what tempt me back to the White Isle year after year.

Sophie Swietochowski Assistant Travel Editor

Go: Caribbean Cruise

Sail away on a 14-night Caribbean cruise onboard P&O’s Arvia from £1,399.

Includes flights from selected UK airports on January 19, 2024, full board and entertainment.

Departs Barbados and calls at Tortola, La Romana, St Maarten, Antigua, St Kitts, Martinique, and St Lucia.

See pocruises.com.

Hope in Cadiz

MY first full year as a digital travel reporter has been packed with plenty of “pinch me” moments.

I went on my first trip to America, flying to the Big Apple for the opening of Virgin Hotels New York City.

The Spanish port city of Cadiz stole my heartCredit: supplied

I also had my first business-class experience on the same trip thanks to Virgin Atlantic.

And I can’t forget my first Formula One experience in Doha, where I watched Max Verstappen be crowned World Champion in October.

Thanks to Qatar Airways, I was spoilt with F1 Paddock Club tickets too.

While these long-haul destinations were truly exciting, Cadiz, a port city in the south of Spain, stole my heart.

My four-day trip in May coincided with the Feria del Vino Fino, a festival celebrating the locally produced sherry.

The grounds were packed with colourful marquees and women in flamenco dresses.

Other highlights included dining on local delicacies and a bracing dip at the city’s beach.

And without the crowds of other UK holidaymakers, I felt like I’d found my own slice of authentic Spanish life.

Hope Brotherton, Travel Writer

GO: Seville

EasyJet flies direct to Seville from Gatwick from £33 each way.

See easyjet.com

Ryan in Nashville

THIS year’s travel experiences saw me jet off to Mauritius, Athens and Shanghai, while also enjoying eventful weekends away in the UK.

But the standout trip for me this year was the week I spent in Nashville, Tennessee.

I enjoyed rambunctious nights out in Nashville’s spit ’n’ sawdust saloons and honky tonksCredit: Supplied

I enjoyed rambunctious nights out in the city’s spit ’n’ sawdust saloons and honky tonks, thrilling sporting events and food ranging from fabulous fried street snacks to elegant restaurant dishes, all with the finest bourbon cocktails.

Next year, I’m hoping for new experiences in India or Sri Lanka, as well as trips to lesser- visited destinations in Europe.

The chance to see England at the Euros in Germany could be an excuse to return there too.

Ryan Gray, Travel Writer

GO: Nashville

British Airways flights to Nashville from Heathrow are currently in the New Year sale with fares from £339pp.

See ba.com/nashville.

Giuli in Disneyland Paris

RETURNING to Disneyland Paris for the first time in more than a decade was a magical experience.

The nostalgia of coming back after so long, combined with the enchantment of the park and the many activities, made it hard to beat.

Disneyland never loses its magic and wonderCredit: AFP – Getty

Exploring the Sleeping Beauty Castle and watching the comeback of the night-time parade Disney Dreams! made me feel like a kid again.

The Spider-Man W.E.B Adventure interactive ride transported me into my own superhero film and was my fave attraction.

Ratatouille: The Adventure and Finding Nemo’s Crush’s Coaster rides are also worth a mention.

Between the thrilling rides and heartwarming glimpses of some of my favourite childhood characters, Disneyland Paris created some of my favourite memories from this year.

And there’s more to celebrate in 2024 as the park’s flagship Disneyland Hotel reopens following a multimillion pound renovation.

Giuli Graziano, Travel Writer

GO: Disneyland Paris

Two nights’ self-catering at Les Villages Nature is from £169pp including three-day Disneyland Paris entry.

See magicbreaks.co.uk.

Caroline McGuire

MY trip to the Channel Islands in April was unexpectedly brilliant. Jersey hadn’t really been on my radar, but the stunning beaches, amazing wildlife and great food really turned my head.

We also took a boat trip to the deserted Ecrehous islands – last properly inhabited several decades ago – and spotted dolphins offshore.

It was my sons first time on the slopes when we visited La RosiereCredit: supplied

My four-year-old even announced a highly surprising love of the local delicacy – Jersey rock oysters.

We then visited the fascinating Herm, a tiny Channel island where cars are banned and there are no shops.

Which means you have to pre-order all groceries to be shipped over a week in advance.

The white sand beach to the north of the island (which could be walked end to end in under an hour) could easily have been somewhere in Greece.

It truly felt like we were in an Enid Blyton adventure as we traipsed down the empty island paths with fishing nets and spades hanging from our picnic bag.

Given that you don’t even need a passport to visit either and the weather is reliably better than the UK, we’ll definitely be exploring more of the islands like Guernsey in the near future.

I also managed to sneak in a family ski holiday to the French Alps in the last week before Christmas and it was the perfect way to ease us into the festive season.

The decorated trees that lined the streets of La Rosiere had an extra special touch of real snow among the baubles and tinsel.

It was my son’s first time on the slopes and the holiday operators Skibeat had pointed us to the perfect resort for beginners and booked us the ideal chalet – just 10m walk from our front door to the ski school.

Despite his lack of experience, my son’s instructors got him on blue runs by the end of the week.

When we weren’t bombing it down the slopes, we were sledging, building snowmen or having snowball fights – basically living out our very own Hallmark Christmas movie.

Caroline McGuire Travel Editor

GO: La Rosiere

Seven-night chalet board holidays in La Rosiere start from £853pp including Gatwick or Manchester flights and transfers.

See skibeat.co.uk.

Kara in Turks & Caicos

THE highlight of my year is always a winter sun holiday, taking me out of the chilly UK for some much-needed warmth.

And I was lucky enough to be one of the first to visit the Caribbean island of Turks and Caicos on Virgin Atlantic’s new direct flights.

Turks & Caicos is likely to be a big hit with Brits in 2024Credit: Supplied

It’s likely to be a big hit with Brits in 2024, being similar to the Maldives but now much easier to get to with the non-stop, nine-hour flights.

Despite being a tiny island, it is home to the “best beach in the world”, Grace Bay which has the cleanest, softest sands I’ve ever trodden in.

And it has one of the top beach bars in the world too, with Da Conch Shack serving up fresh conch (a sea snail) alongside congaing live bands.

I spent so long in the turquoise sea I was constantly pruned, be it jumping from boats or kayaking past chilled-out turtles.

Add in some villas with slides into the ocean and late-night rum punches by the fire – it’s the certainly one to end the year on a high.

Kara Godfrey, Deputy Travel Editor

GO: Turks and Caicos

Seven nights’ room-only at The Sands At Grace Bay hotel is £1,610pp, flying with Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow on November 9.

See virginholidays.co.uk.

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