My Best Travel Experiences of 2020

Bart Lapers at Saint Kitts and Nevis UN country 100

Despite a global pandemic raging around the world, I managed to visit 20 countries in 2020 of which 11 for the first time: Antigua and Barbuda 🇦🇬 Barbados 🇧🇧 Burundi 🇧🇮 Democratic Republic of the Congo 🇨🇩 Dominica 🇩🇲 Grenada 🇬🇩 Rwanda 🇷🇼 Saint Kitts and Nevis 🇰🇳 Saint Lucia 🇱🇨 Saint Vincent & The Grenadines 🇻🇨 Trinidad and Tobago 🇹🇹. It was also the year I hit the milestone of visiting 100 UN countries. I have now been to 109 UN countries!

Flights

Flight Statistics 2020 Bart Lapers

With just 46 flights, the past year has been a low point in my aviation hobby. 39 economy flights, 7 business class flights (limited to Lufthansa and Ethiopian Airlines) good for a total of 44,555 miles flown, 1.8x around the Earth, 115 hours up in the air. My Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles Elite status (Star Alliance Gold) was extended till February 2023 and British Airways Executive Club Silver status (Oneworld Sapphire) till December 2021 as a courtesy by the airlines due to the pandemic.

Hotels

The Retreat in Kigali Rwanda
The Retreat Kigali, Rwanda (Feb 2020)

In 2020, I stayed 79 nights at hotels:

  • Marriott: 19 nights
    • Sheraton: 7
    • Marriott: 4
    • Courtyard by Marriott: 2
    • Renaissance: 2
    • Westin: 2
    • Moxy: 1
    • Four Points by Sheraton: 1
  • IHG: 6 nights
    • Holiday Inn: 3
    • Holiday Inn Express: 2
    • Hotel Indigo: 1
  • Hilton: 5 nights
    • DoubleTree by Hilton: 3
    • Hilton: 1
    • Hilton Garden Inn: 1
  • Airbnb: 7 nights
  • Cruise: 14 nights
  • Other: 28 nights
  • Total: 79 nights

My Hilton Diamond status was extended till March 2022 and my IHG Rewards Club Platinum Elite Status till December 2021 as a courtesy by the hotel chains due to the pandemic. I also completed the Marriott Bonvoy status challenge granting me Platinum Elite status till February 2022.

Caribbean Cruise

Jacuzzi view MSC Preziosa cruise ship at Dominica Island in January 2020
MSC Preziosa at Dominica Island (Jan 2020)

End of January, I joined a group of fellow country chasers for a 14-day Caribbean cruise with MSC Preziosa. It turned out to be the most efficient and cost effective way to visit a dozen Caribbean islands. Air Belgium had just launched their direct flights from Brussels-South Charleroi airport to Fort-de-France (Martinique) which I booked for just €332 roundtrip on the day Air Belgium announced their service to the French Caribbean Island. The cruise itself was €1055 for an interior cabin which I shared with two travel buddies. Overall, excellent value for a 14-day cruise with a la carte breakfast, lunch and dinner included.

Bart Lapers at the Pitons Saint-Lucia February 2020
Pitons, Saint-Lucia (Feb 2020)

The cruise sailed to 12 islands of which 8 (*) independent UN countries: Martinique, Guadeloupe, British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, Dominica*, Saint Kitts and Nevis*, Antigua and Barbuda*, Saint Lucia*, Barbados*, Grenada*, Trinidad and Tobago*, Saint Vincent & The Grenadines*.

Caribbean Travel Buddies Sarah Garry and Friends
MY Caribbean Travel Buddies Sarah, Garry and Friends (Feb 2020)

Mornings started with a run at the cruise ship gym followed by a la carte breakfast. Once the ship was docked in the harbour, we headed out to explore the island. By using public transportation and hitchhiking we got in touch with friendly locals, managed to avoid the crowds and saved a lot of money.

7 Sisters Waterfalls Grenada Bart Lapers February 2020
7 Sisters Waterfalls, Grenada (Feb 2020)

Highlights of my Caribbean trip were visiting Les Chutes du Carbet in Guadeloupe, Trafalgar Falls in Dominica, Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park at my 100th UN country St. Kitts and Nevis, Shirley Heights in Antigua & Barbuda, sneaking in the most expensive Caribbean hotel Jade Mountain St Lucia, the morning run to Crystal Cove Beach in Barbados, swimming at the 7 Sisters Waterfalls in Grenada and witnessing carnival preparations in Trinidad and Tobago. Check my Instagram Stories for more Caribbean impressions.

Crystal Cove Beach Barbados February 2020
Crystal Cove Beach, Barbados (Feb 2020)

Virunga National Park

Silverback Gorilla at Virunga National Park Congo Bart Lapers February 2020
Mountain gorilla at Virunga Park, DRC (Feb 2020)

A trip originally scheduled for 2019 but delayed due to another pandemic, Ebola, finally materialised in February 2020. Virunga National Park located in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) famous for its mountain gorillas and Nyiragongo volcano featuring the world’s largest lava lake. Unfortunately the park’s diverse habitats and wildlife are under constant threat of poachers and rebels active in the park.

Camp Kigali Belgian Peacekeepers Memorial Rwanda Februari 2020
Camp Kigali Belgian Peacekeepers Memorial, Rwanda (Feb 2020)

My Virunga trip started in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, only a few hours drive from the border with the DRC. In April 1994, ten Belgian UNAMIR soldiers protecting the Rwandan prime minister were massacred at a military base in Kigali. It was the start of the Rwandan genocide. Today the site is preserved as a memorial for the soldiers.

Base Camp Virunga Park Rangers DRC February 2020
Base Camp Virunga Park Rangers (Feb 2020)

At la Grande Barrière, the border crossing into DRC, we were escorted to Kibumba Tented Camp by the Virunga Park Rangers. Virunga has 700 male and female rangers actively serving to protect the park and the local communities from poachers and rebel groups. A dangerous job, as every year several rangers lose their live protecting the park. This year was particularly deadly, with 12 rangers killed in a militia ambush two months after my visit. I highly recommend the Virunga documentary on Netflix to learn more about the preservation efforts in the park.

Bart Lapers Virunga Park Ranger Kibumba Tented Camp March 2020
Virunga Park Ranger at Kibumba Tented Camp (Feb 2020)
Kids near Buhumba Virunga National Park DRC February 2020
Kids near Buhumba village Virunga (Feb 2020)

Walking distance from Kibumba Tented Camp we encountered the mighty mountain gorillas. A critically endangered species of which only ˜1000 individuals are left in the mountain rainforest of eastern DRC, southwestern Uganda and Rwanda. The gorilla trekking permit was $400 compared to $700 in Uganda and a whopping $1500 in Rwanda. Tourism is an important source of income for the Virunga National Park to finance its protection efforts. Unfortunately, the park had to close for tourism due to the pandemic and now relies on donations.

Silverback Gorilla Virunga National Park February 2020
Silverback Gorilla Virunga National Park (Feb 2020)
Bart Lapers Nyiragongo Volcano DRC Crater View
Nyiragongo Volcano Crater VIrunga (Feb 2020)

Another unique experience at Virunga was climbing Mount Nyiragongo (3470m) and staying overnight at the rim of the volcano to witness the lava lake in all its glory. Check my Congo IG Stories for videos of the gorillas and volcano.

Bart Lapers Nyiragongo Volcano DR Congo February 2020
Nyiragongo Volcano Lava Lake Virunga (Feb 2020)
Nyiragongo Volcano lava lake by night February 2020
Nyiragongo volcano lava lake at night (Feb 2020)

Burundi

Royal Drummers of Burundi Gishora Bart Lapers March 2020
Royal Drummers of Burundi (Mar 2020)

To finish my Central African trip, I visited Burundi. One of the poorest countries in the world with the lowest GDP per capita. Our base was Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika in the capital Bujumbura from where we did a number of day trips exploring the country. Highlight was a private performance for myself and my travel buddy of the Royal Drummers of Burundi. Check my Burundi IG Stories to see them in action.

Royal Drummers of Burundi Gishora March 2020
Royal Drummers of Burundi in Gishora (Mar 2020)
Childeren of Burundi Gishora March 2020
Childeren of Burundi in Gishora (Mar 2020)

European Summer

Trevi Fountain Rome Morning Run Bart Lapers Jun 2020
Morning Run Trevi Fountain, Rome (Jun 2020)

Mid March international travel came to a complete standstill with the Belgian government banning non-essential travel for three months. As a result 9 trips I had booked for 2020 got cancelled. As soon as the travel ban was lifted I was flying again. Flight schedules were only a fraction of what they used to be with Rome one of the few options for my first weekend trip in June.

Pantheon Rome Bart Lapers June 2020
Morning run Pantheon, Rome (Jun 2020)

I got filled with excitement seeing how quiet the city was during a morning run with Fabrizio of Wake up Rome. I basically had the entire historic center to myself. World famous places like the Colosseum, Trevi fountain, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Saint Peter’s Square were all empty on a sunny Saturday morning.

Colosseum Rome Bart Lapers Jul 2020
Colosseum, Rome (Jul 2020)

It became immediately clear to me the summer of 2020 was going to offer some unique opportunities to visit places which were normally flocked with tourists but now were going to very quiet. As my experience in Rome was so great, I returned for a second weekend in July. Check my Rome IG Stories.

Spanish Steps Rome Bart Lapers July 2020
Spanish Steps, Rome (Jul 2020)

Amalfi Coast

Positano Spiaggia Italy July 2020
Positano, Italy (Jul 2020)

Same story for Naples and surroundings. Visited Pompei, which receives 2.5 million tourists in a normal year, with almost nobody around. Highlights of my Amalfi Coast trip were the Sentiero degli Dei (Path of Gods) hike, Terrazza dell’Infinito at Villa Cimbrone Gardens in Ravello and taking the ferry from Positano to Amalfi. Check my Amalfi Coast IG Stories.

Santorini

Santorini Oia Bart Lapers July 2020
Blue domed Church, Santorini, Greece (Jul 2020)

Santorini, the Greek island you want to avoid during any normal tourist season, turned out to be a gem this summer. With only a fraction of the tourist population present (no cruise ships!) it offered the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful island in a tranquil setting. No shoulder to shoulder navigating the narrow streets and back alleys, no showing up two hours in advance to see the sunset and great discounts on hotels and airbnb.

Sunset Santorini Dinner July 2020
Santorini Sunset (Jul 2020)

Dolomites

Tre Cime Di Lavaredo Dolomites Bart Lapers July 2020
Tre Cime Di Lavaredo Dolomites (Jul 2020)

In Northern Italy, I discovered an exciting activity called ‘Via Ferrata’. Climbing the majestic rock formations of the Dolomites secured to steel cables, rungs and ladders using a harness with two leashes. Check my climbing adventures.

Pizes de Cir Via Ferrata Bart Lapers July 2020
Cirspitzen Via Ferrata Dolomites (Jul 2020)

Lanzarote

Volcanic Lanzarote Canary Islands August 2020
Volcanic Lanzarote, Canary Islands (Aug 2020)

In Augustus, I did my first post lockdown trip leaving mainland Europe to Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands.

Playa de Las Conchas La Graciosa Bart Lapers August 2020
Playa de Las Conchas La Graciosa (Aug 2020)
Timanfaya National Park Lanzarote Canary Islands August 2020
Timanfaya National Park Lanzarote (Aug 2020)

Hvar & Split

Blue Lagoon Croatia Hvar Boating Aug 2020
Blue Lagoon Hvar, Croatia (Aug 2020)

Another highlight of my magical summer was boating in Croatia. Normally you need to queue up to two hours to visit the Blue Cave and Green Cave near Hvar, not this summer. I also visited the historic centre of Split built around the remains of the Roman Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site. My Croatian Riviera Stories.

Diocletian Palace Split Croatia Bart Lapers Aug 2020
Diocletian Palace Split, Croatia (Aug 2020)

Tenerife

Golf at Abama Tenerife November 2020
Golf at Abama Tenerife (Nov 2020)

For my final trip of the year I returned to the Canary Islands. Tenerife offered fabulous weather in November allowing me to get nice tan before going into winter travel hibernation (a.k.a. lockdown 2.0) My Tenerife Stories.

Pool at Las Terrazas de Abama Tenerife Nov 2020
Pool at Las Terrazas de Abama Tenerife (Nov 2020)
Bart Lapers at Las Terrazas de Abama Tenerife November 2020
Las Terrazas de Abama Tenerife (Nov 2020)

Conclusion

2020 has been an incredibly challenging year for the travel industry. I consider myself lucky to have travelled intensively during the months of January and February otherwise this blog post would have been a lot shorter. With Churchill’s “Never waste a good crisis” in mind, I still managed to get the most out of the rest of the year. I expect 2021 to be a transition year with the roll-out of the vaccin. My plans to travel to every country in the world are still on (84 countries to go) it will just take a little longer. Stay strong my friends! 🙂

7 Comments on “My Best Travel Experiences of 2020

  1. Beste Bart, ik geniet van Uw reisverslagen en wens U het allerbeste in 2021 op Uw jacht naar de U resterende 84 landen , zelf heb ik er 162, maar ‘ you can beat me ‘, U bent nog veel jonger !! Succes, Pieter

  2. How did you book Virunga? Flight online and tours via a travel agent? I would like to visit that park as well.

    I’m surprised that you didn’t travel to Dubai, Mexico or Zanzibar this year. They are still open for tourism.

    Nice to be Marriott Platinum. Don’t forget the best way to book Courtyard and Moxy is with a BRG-claim and get 5000 bonus points 🙂

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