As 2015 comes to a close, I’ve been looking back at my travels and my photos I took over the past 52 weeks. I didn’t travel as much as usual this year, mostly due to the massively expensive trip to southern Africa we took in May. We went to St. Lucia in November, which I haven’t had time to write about yet, but it’s coming, and we also managed to squeeze in a few weekend trips here in the States over the year.
So, without further ado, I present to you my 15 best travel photos of 2015!
Warning: this post will have a lot of Africa pictures and may inspire you to book a ticket before you finish reading!
15: Boulder’s Beach, South Africa
Penguins and beaches. It doesn’t get much better than that! Less than 50km from Cape Town, Boulder’s Beach in Simons Town couldn’t be more different from its neighboring city. It’s home to one of the largest African Penguin colonies anywhere on the continent. There are over 3,000 penguins in the area. There also seemed to be that many tourists on the boardwalk that afternoon, all crowding around trying to get pictures. At first I was upset that we weren’t able to go onto the beach itself (you used to be able to but people were harassing the penguins so they built the boardwalk and closed the beach), but it was nice to be able to get such a clear shot with no people in it.
14. ‘The Bean’ in Chicago, Illinois
I used to spend a lot of summers in Chicago when I was a kid and my grandparents lived there, but I hadn’t been back in over a decade. And then we found super cheap flights to Chicago in January. On a bitter cold mid-January morning, we braved the frigid temperatures and walked to Millennium Park to see the famed ‘Bean’ of Chicago. Because it was so cold, there weren’t many people out, so I got some good shots.
13. Great White Shark Chasing Bait in Gansbaai, South Africa
Epic, epic, epic! Our first day in South Africa cage diving with great white sharks was hard to top. We were so lucky with both the weather and the sharks; it was a calm day, which meant no seasickness, and we saw 18 different great white sharks, ranging from juveniles to giant mature females. The sharks are feisty and hungry and were always breaching the surface in pursuit of bait. I took over 1,000 photos from the boat and this was my favorite.
12. Lunch overlooking Gros Piton in St. Lucia
We went to St. Lucia to visit and stay with our friends in the Peace Corps. Most of the time, we were living the Peace Corps life and budget. One day we splurged. We ate lunch at Dasheen Restaurant at Ladera Resort, and it was so worth the expensive prices of our sandwiches to eat lunch overlooking Gros Piton and the western coast of St. Lucia. This was taken from our table. Unreal!
11. Elephants in Chobe National Park, Botswana
Botswana has the largest elephant population in all of Africa, and it was apparent from the moment you entered Chobe National Park. There were herds of elephants everywhere! The herds tend to congregate on the banks of the Chobe River, drinking and bathing and swimming.
10. Girl Fishing at Sunset, Clearwater Beach, Florida
I used to think I had to venture far from home to get great photos, but I have been proven wrong. I took this picture over the summer at Clearwater Beach, Florida. This is quintessential Florida right here: warm weather, a colorful sunset, and fishing in the surf. There’s no place like home.
9. A real ‘Lion King’ moment in South Africa
Our safari lodge, Idube, located in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve, would do bush walks each afternoon after lunch in the area around our camp. Our days started at 4:30 am, so I always wanted to skip the walks in favor of napping, but I never did. One of our walks found us in a clearing where a giraffe was passing through a herd of grazing impala. Cue the ‘Circle of Life’ song from The Lion King! It was a surreal moment and one I am glad I didn’t end up sleeping through.
8. Dassi overlooking Cape Town from Table Mountain, South Africa
One day when we were in Cape Town, we took the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain. These adorable little animals called dassi live up there and are fairly tame. This one looked like it was contemplating life as it stared off into the distance.
7. A breathtaking photo of a sunrise in Sabi Sands, South Africa that won a photo contest
I snapped this photo on a misty morning in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve during our South Africa safari. Then I put it on Instagram and did the usual 30 hashtags. A few weeks later I got a message from Visit South Africa, the country’s official tourism board, informing me that I had won an Instagram photo contest! I’ve never won anything before, so I felt super honored. I got a really neat coffee table book as a prize.
6. A confused leopard, Sabi Sands, South Africa
We found this leopard looking for warthogs at a termite mound (warthogs burrow into the termite mounds and live in them). He went into the warthog den and then came back out in a cloud of dust and bats. Yes, bats flew out. He was so confused!
5. A pool with a view, Hotel Chocolat, St. Lucia
It’s not the best picture in the world due to the lighting, but I love it. We stayed at Hotel Chocolat, a gorgeous hotel set on a cocoa plantation, for one night while in St. Lucia. The infinity pool overlooked the lush trees and Petit Piton. The water was frigid, but I had to get in and read my book for a few minutes to admire the view.
4. A pool with a view, Idube Game Reserve, South Africa
Our room at Idube Game Reserve had its own private pool. We were told that, since it was dry season, we might occasionally see elephants drinking out of the pool. I was dying to see it, but it didn’t look like we’d be lucky. And then, after getting back to the room from lunch on our last day, we saw this elephant hanging out at our pool. Unfortunately, I scared it away after taking this picture, but it was so cool to see! We also saw a leopard walk past the pool, as well as giraffe and tons of impala. Best pool ever.
3. A curious baby elephant, Sabi Sands, South Africa
None of the other older elephants paid our safari truck any attention, but this little one wasn’t used to seeing the trucks yet. It was raising its trunk to sniff the air and see what the heck we were.
2. A bird’s eye view of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Zambia
I hate flying, so taking a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls was a nerve wracking event, but it was hard to feel to stressed when you get to see one of the most beautiful sights in the world from this vantage point.
1. A hungry and unhappy mother leopard, Sabi Sands, South Africa
One of my all time favorite pictures ever. We watched this leopard eating an impala in a tree. Then she came down to clean herself, so we moved in for a closer look. When she finished her bath, she looked up at us, then at her kill in the tree. We were sitting between her and her food, and she was not happy. It was one of the scariest moments of the trip. She got up and started walking slowly towards us, her mouth hanging open, exposing her huge teeth. I should mention that our safari vehicle did not have sides or a top, so we were completely exposed…and she was directly to my left, probably less than 5 feet away. Our guide told us to sit still and not to make any movements (this picture was taken right before she started coming at us). She ended up going around us and back up the tree, but it was a moment I’ll never forget.
Honorable Mention: A cheetah with her cubs, Sabi Sands, South Africa
Cheetahs are awesome animals. They’re so long and tall and not aggressive. They also don’t have claws as adults. They survive because they can run so fast., but they can’t really defend themselves like other big cats can. This mom had come all the way from the other side of the park with her cubs. She originally had 5, but 3 of them had been hunted and killed by other predators. The babies were so cute. I hope they survived.