the Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica

Best Summer Trips 2017

Pack your bags for the top destinations to visit right now.

Cocos Island, a national park off the coast of Costa Rica, is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. You may recognize the island from Jurassic World, but much of the real beauty lies underneath the surface of the water.

Photograph by Harald Slauschek, Getty Images

We’ve got something for everyone in this roundup of best places to visit during the upcoming summer months. From crave-worthy food festivals in the United States to natural wonders further afield, these adventures are sure to inspire. Here are the 10 incredible trips to take this summer–and why now is the perfect time to go.

If you are eco-friendly: Bonito, Brazil

Grab your snorkel and go spelunking in remote Rio de Prata.

<p>Snorkel down the Rio Sucuri for an up close encounter with plenty of fish.</p>

Snorkel down the Rio Sucuri for an up close encounter with plenty of fish.

Photograph by Franco Banfi, NPL/Minden Pictures

Bonito, located in Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul state, is top-notch for ecotourism. What it lacks in size it makes up for in natural splendor, with waterfalls, caves, and a teeming undersea world. Voted the best destination for responsible tourism in 2013, the region has established a price-controlled voucher system that allows agencies to space out visits and focus on sustainability. Sights are spread out and fees aren’t cheap–but Bonito's incredible beauty makes it worth the splurge. Snorkel in the crystalline Rio da Prata, swarming with fish. Explore the Lagoa Azul, a cave with a blue lake refracted through limestone and magnesium. Hike the Estância Mimosa’s waterfall-laden trail. Adventurous travelers shouldn’t miss the Abismo Anhumas, an underwater cavern filled with stalagmites and stalactites–that you reach by rappelling into a crevice. While June, July, and August are drier, they’re also cooler and calmer. With limited vouchers, you’ll have a higher chance of seeing what you want, without the wait.

If you like a big city: Rotterdam, Netherlands

Explore architecture and food in this rising European city.

Originally settled in the 13th century, Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands, sitting 19 miles from the North Sea. As a strategic port and important industrial city, Rotterdam was heavily bombed during World War II. These days, Rotterdam has rebuilt itself into a contemporary and unique metropolis, a blend of foreign and local architecture. Don’t miss the bright new Luchtsingel (air canal), a crowdfunded yellow bridge linking three previously disconnected areas that transformed the north end of the city. Marvel at Arno Coenen’s mesmerizing art shines at the Markthal, a horseshoe-shaped covered market near Rotte River. And if music is your thing, the world-famous Port of Rotterdam North Sea Jazz festival takes over the city in July. This is Rotterdam’s season to shine.

If you wish you were a fish: Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Suspend reality with an underwater adventure.

If you’re an experienced diver, head to Cocos Island in Costa Rica. Overflowing with hiking trails, jungle, and great land fauna, the real reason to visit is what hides underwater: A cacophony of hammerhead, tiger, Galápagos, and whale sharks, as well as manta rays, dolphins, and the occasional whale reward. Cocos has the largest biomass of predators measured to date on Pacific tropical marine ecosystems, and a great time to dive is in the summer months when nutrient-rich waters clash against underwater mini-mountains, attracting hammerheads. They also come to Cocos for a “cleaning.” Tiny barber fish feast on parasites that live on the hammerheads’ mouths, skin, and gills. The island is a trek, some 341 miles from Punta Arenas, but we think the liveaboard visit is worth it. After all, Jacques Cousteau called it “the most beautiful island in the world.” How can you argue with that?

If music is your jam: Nashville, Tennessee

They don’t call it “music city” for nothing.

CMA Music Festival takes place in June, attracting country music fans from around the world to soak up four days of live concerts by more than one hundred artists, including free shows in the downtown core. If country music isn’t your thing, the enormous Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival is happening at the same time just down the road in Manchester, Tennessee, hosting 150 musical acts and comedy shows, plus art workshops. Just you and 80,000 friends. For free music, options abound: July 4th, the Let Freedom Sing concert, followed by Live on the Green in Public Square Park in August, and the quirky Tomato Art Festival in East Nashville August 11-12th. It’s a timely year to visit Graceland and “Elvis-Land” in Memphis, as August 16 marks the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. You’ll want to be in Nashville on August 21st, when this century’s first total solar eclipse sweeps across the country, with Music City directly in its path.

If you are looking for close encounters: Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Marvel at the beauty and poise of majestic apes.

Rwanda developed into a conservation leader in the protection of critically endangered mountain gorillas. In 1981, only 254 mountain gorillas were left in Rwanda. Today, the primate’s numbers are on the rise. With a summer visit to the Parc National de Volcans in the Virunga Massif, you can contribute to their efforts with an ecotourism trek. Located two hours from the capital, Kigali, the park is a base to explore both gorillas and other wildlife, as well as hike the Dian Fossey Tomb Trail on the slopes of Mount Bisoke. There are presently 10 gorilla families habituated to tourists, each with at least one Silverback–some with three or four. The park imposes a strict limit of 80 people per day for gorilla spotting via permits that you must order in advance of your trip.

If you’re in search of good art: Seattle, Washington

Take advantage of summer sun–and duck into museums when it rains–in this Pacific Northwest wonder.

While summer sun brings outdoor fun in Seattle, we recommend you supplement your hiking and ferry rides with immersive art experiences in the Emerald City. Take in a flick at the Seattle International Film Festival, the largest film event in United States, now in its 43rd year. More than 400 films from 80 countries are scheduled for this year’s event on May 18-June 11th. Is dance more your thing? If so, The Seattle International Dance festival takes over the city starting on June 9th, with a 16-day explosion of dance and the arts, both indoors and outdoors. For art-lovers, float in a magical space at Yayoi Kusama’s surreal infinity mirror exhibit, which opens at the Seattle Art Museum on June 30th. And we’d be remiss if we left out Bumbershoot, which Rolling Stone called "one of the coolest Labor Day Weekend fiestas in the country."

If you are on a budget: San Juan, Puerto Rico

For a summer jaunt on a budget, we recommend San Juan.

Claimed by the Spanish crown in 1493 and ceded to the United States in 1898, Puerto Rico uses the U.S. dollar–with a distinctly island feel. Wander Old San Juan and take in its bright colors and colonial architecture, then hop on a free tourist trolley–there are three routes to choose from. At the tip of the peninsula, visit La Fortaleza, the 16th-century forts built to protect the city and the Bay of San Juan. If it’s raining, nip into Museo del Mar or Museo de las Américas for hours of entertainment. If the weather is calm, take a ferry or flight to enjoy the beaches of Vieques Island, a few miles off Puerto Rico’s coast. Consider spending the night to gawk at Mosquito Bay’s bioluminescent waters and explore the town of Esperanza. Though summer marks Puerto Rico’s low season due to hurricanes, it’s a more affordable, less crowded time to visit if you’re willing to take a gamble.

If you’re feeling adventurous: Levadas of Madeira, Portugal

Trace the flow of water within the forests of Madeira.

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Portugal sure stands out this year, but the mainland is only part of what the country offers. To explore a different facet of Portuguese history, head to the island of Madeira, off the northwest coast of Africa. A strategic stop for Portuguese explorers, Madeira not only possesses towering mountains and turquoise waters, but an extensive 1,926 miles of ancient water channels, or levadas. After settlers arrived in 1425, these levadas were a critical component to irrigating the island’s settlements. The levadas are still functional today, and visitors can explore them via hiking trains that trace the path of water from mountain streams down to the sea. In 2017, Madeira applied to UNESCO for the levadas to hold World Heritage status. Go now, before the rest of the world figures out how beautiful they are. For more advanced hikers, we recommend the Vereda do Areeiro trail, though be sure to check for closures before you go. Beginners can start with Verada dos Balcões. Be prepared for waterfalls, lush forests, and awe. More on the Visit Madeira website, including helpful trail maps.

If you travel for food: Hawaii

Find a feast for your senses.

The youngest U.S. state is known for its surfing, volcanoes, and bright blue waters, all worthwhile reasons to visit. We’re adding one more: its food. For starters, Maui hosts the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival in early June, one of Hawaii's longest-running and most prestigious culinary events. Meet local winemakers, master sommeliers, and chefs from around the island and further afield during the 4-day event, including a seafood festival showcasing the state’s accomplished chefs. For a change of pace and palate, head to Honolulu for Eat The Street, a food truck rally held on the last Friday of every month for the last 6 years. If beer is your thing, Hilo’s 5th annual Brewfest is on June 24th this summer. And in between, get your fill of savory poke, Hawaii’s favorite raw fish dish that is trending worldwide.

If you like a good water and wildlife combo: Galápagos Islands

Ogle at animals and smile-inducing landscapes on these remote islands off the coast of Ecuador.

The Galápagos Islands are located at the confluence of ocean currents, and together with surrounding marine reserves comprise a delicate equatorial ecosystem like no other. While some day trips are possible from the bigger islands, the best way to visit is via a liveaboard, like the new National Geographic Endeavour II, which allows access to the more remote areas via zodiac trips that dart into tiny bays. The islands inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and are more and more popular with tourists–which is why we suggest you go sooner rather than later. From the highest abundance of sharks known in the world, to land and sea iguanas that exist nowhere else, we guarantee you’ll be impressed by beauty and biology alike. From July to November, the Humboldt Current brings colder water loaded with nutrients that attracts humpback whales, and penguin. The season is when the famous blue-footed boobies mate, and August marks the birthing season for sea lions.

Jodi Ettenberg is a travel writer and the founder of Legal Nomads. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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