The Travel Goals Master Checklist: Part I – North America & the Caribbean

The full Travel Goals Master Checklist in all its glory

Whether you’re a marker, checker, crosser or scratcher, there’s no satisfaction quite like the feeling you get when eliminating an item from your ‘to do’ list. That same sense of accomplishment transfers nicely to the field of travel, where having a well-defined list of destinations to see and the joy of checking them off after visiting them is all part of the fun.

With the recent release of my new poster: The Travel Goals Master Checklist, I thought it fitting to review how I came up with the 72 world-class destinations featured in the design, and why they deserve a spot on this list. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or have yet to venture beyond the borders of your own country, I invite you to compare your list with mine, and if you should feel so inclined, encourage you to cross off as many as you can.

North America & The Caribbean

So as not to overwhelm you with all 72 destinations at once, I’ve decided to discuss the destinations by region. For the record, the destinations on the list are not necessarily places I’ve visited myself, but rather locations that have strong natural, cultural or historical appeal. To date I’ve visited just 44 out of 72, so I’ve got some pending travel goals myself.

New York City, USA

New York, New York, USA

Even if I wasn’t born and raised in the suburbs of New York City, the Big Apple is for all intents and purposes the ‘Capital of the World’. Thanks to innumerable appearances in popular films and TV programs, it is also one of the most recognizable. The iconic Empire State Building was a natural choice when it came to creating an image that encapsulates one of the most impressive city skylines. Chances are a good number of you reading this can check off this must-see metropolis.

Niagara Falls, USA/Canada

Niagara Falls! Slowly I turned…

Straddling the US/Canadian border, Niagara Falls is rightly considered to be one of the world’s most famous cascades. It has massive size and unique accessibility from aboard a Maid of the Mist watercraft, and is usually only ranked behind Victoria and Iguazu Falls in terms of sheer impressiveness. Add to that its renown as a world-class tourist site and I felt I had no choice but to include it in my top 72 travel destinations.

Quebec City, Canada

Le bonne vie in Quebec City, Canada

Quebec City is the closest thing to visiting a European destination on the North American continent. With charming Old World architecture and a skyline dominated by the imposing Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City earns its place on the checklist for both its cultural and historic pedigree.

Banff National Park, Canada

Banff National Park, Canada

While I’ve yet to have the privilege of visiting the Canadian Rockies myself, the milky-blue hues of Lake Louise in Canada’s Banff National Park are universally considered to be a world-class draw. As one of the best examples of gorgeous alpine scenery on the continent, Banff earned its spot on my checklist with little internal debate.

Denali National Park, USA

Bear sighting, Denali National Park, USA

Though part of the United States, Alaska is its own region with its own appeal. Of all the potential scenes I could have used to represent this remote and unspoiled wilderness in the extreme northwest of the continent, a grizzly bear against the backdrop of Denali (the Great One) seemed a most fitting tribute to the dominance of nature that people the world over come to see.

Yosemite National Park, USA

Yosemite National Park, USA

The American West has more than its fair share of world-class level wonders, so picking those to include on the list was not an easy thing to do. Fortunately, Yosemite National Park is so superlative that not including it on the master checklist would be a travesty, so I really didn’t have a choice but to include it. When choosing the imagery I wanted to use, I knew that the iconic peaks of Half-dome and El Capitan would have to make an appearance.

Yellowstone National Park, USA

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone NP, USA

Even if it wasn’t the first ever national park, or an alpine region brimming with natural beauty, Yellowstone is home to some of the most intriguing geological wonders on the planet, and is therefore an shoo-in for a place on this list. When it comes to natural attractions, Yellowstone and its geothermal oddities are hard to beat.

Grand Canyon, USA

Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA

Despite what I just said in my description of Yellowstone National Park, there is at least one place that trumps it in terms of the raw impressiveness showcased in the natural world. The Grand Canyon is just one of those places you have to see for yourself to fully appreciate its grandeur. Even then, wrapping one’s brain around the burnt-tones of this dramatic open space is not easy to pull off.

Hawaii, USA

Tropical Wonder in the Hawaiian Islands, USA

Much like Alaska, Hawaii has its own unique geology and culture that separates it from mainland USA. Long synonymous with tropical paradise, the Hawaiian islands continue to beckon world travelers with their gorgeous tropical scenery and vibrant South Seas culture.

Los Cabos, Mexico

Los Cabos, Mexico

Despite all the attention that goes to its neighbors to the north, Mexico is home to a treasure trove of natural attractions. Though a late entry, and one I haven’t personally visited yet, Los Cabos, at the tip of Baja California, draw steady streams of tourist looking to experience the beautiful juxtaposition of clear waters lapping against an arid desert landscape.

Chichen Itza, Mexico

Chichen Itza, Mexico

Besides having abundant natural wonders to draw visitors from around the world, Mexico is also the cradle of the mighty Aztec and Mayan civilizations that once held sway in this region. The latter are responsible for the marvelous ruins of Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site smack dab in the middle of a jungle on the Yucatan Peninsula. This ‘lost city’ has all the earmarks of a cultural jewel, and therefore was an early entry onto the master checklist.

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

Vulcan Arenal, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a nature-lover’s paradise. The tricky part was figuring out which of the many attractions to feature as the specific ‘destination’ on my list. Recalling the tantalizingly-disturbing rumbles of the ever-active Arenal Volcano, and the verdant paradise that surrounds it, I knew I had found my muse.

Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Visit the Ocho, featuring Dunn’s River Falls

Sure, Ocho Rios has all the trappings of your run-of-the-mill Caribbean cruise port. But it also boasts something most other ports can’t: access to a world-class natural attraction like Dunn’s River Falls. This iconic series of cascades sees plenty of tourists, but that’s not without good reason as I learned on my own visit there. Sometimes you just have to put aside your inner travel snob and see what all the fuss is about. In the case of Ocho Rios, it was a pleasant surprise to see my assumptions overturned.

St. John, US Virgin Islands

Trunk Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

With so many dazzling and bejeweled Caribbean Islands to choose from, I finally landed on St. John in the US Virgin Islands for the simple reason that the majority of it is dedicated parkland, preserving its natural and historic charms from the pervasive encroachment of commercialism so rampant in the region. With beautiful beaches, dense greenery and colonial-era ruins, in my mind St. John encapsulates all the best qualities of a Caribbean island, landing it a well-earned spot on the master checklist.

How Many Have You Visited?

Order your own Travel Goals Master Checklist today!

So far I’ve covered 14 out of the 72 destinations on the master checklist. How many can you check off? Even if that number is zero, the beauty of the checklist is that it inspires a person to new adventures and specific travel goals. If you’ve enjoyed the artwork and want a Travel Goals Master Checklist to display in your home or office, please visit my Custom Travel Art store, or my Etsy store to order a copy for yourself or the traveler in your life.

In the meantime, I’ll start preparing Part II . . .


Have you been to any of these destinations? Or do you have a favorite in North America and the Caribbean that you feel should have made the list? Share it with your fellow travel lovers by leaving a comment!

Chichen Itza as a Shore Excursion from Cozumel? It Depends

Tucked away on a jungle plain of the Yucatan Peninsula is one of the “New” 7 Wonders of the World – Chichen Itza. For a cruise ship passenger, getting to a monument tucked away on a jungle plain is something of a problem – something to do with access I suppose. For all their striking advances in mathematics and architecture, you can fault the Mayans for the shortsightedness of building one of their most impressive complexes so inconveniently far from what would become the region’s most popular cruise ship port. The way I see it, if you’re so bold as to predict the end of the world (strike 1), you should start by predicting your future source of revenue. Well,  revenue until said world ends. Regardless of the reasoning, this incongruity leaves the culturally-minded cruise ship passenger with a bit of a conundrum: How can you visit the greatest area attraction in the woefully inadequate amount of time spent in port? And even if such an option is available, would it be worth it? Let me give you the clearest answer possible to those questions: It depends.
Chichen Itza
El Castillo – Chichen Itza, Mexico

Terms and Conditions

Allow me to further elaborate on my earlier point. Can a day trip to Chichen Itza be done as a shore excursion from Cozumel? Yes. Should it be done? Again, it depends. To reach Chichen Itza from Cozumel requires more than the usual investment of time and money. First, guests will disembark at the bustling tourist dock on the island of Cozumel, where they will be quickly transferred to a fast ferry for the approximately 45 minute ride to Playa del Carmen on the Mexican mainland. From there, they will then be boarded onto a bus or van that will pass through the congested roads of the town and onto a straight highway through low-lying jungle for about two hours. Counting all the various transfers and regrouping, figure on at least 3 hours of travel ONE WAY, which unless you wind up being sacrificed atop the main pyramid, will then require you to take the same trip in reverse. It is for this reason that I would very strongly suggest only booking such an excursion through the cruise ship. While I am notorious for going it alone when in port, considering the very stringent time constraints, you’re going to want to be sure that if there’s any holdup or delay the ship is going to wait for you. And while prices start at around $150 per person (check with your cruise line) it really isn’t all that bad a deal if you’re still insistent on making the trip.
Chichen Itza2
Columns for Days, Chichen Itza, Mexico

Is it Worth it?

The pressing question now, is whether or not all that travel, hassle and money is worth it. Well, let’s see…I’d say it depends. Perhaps a little more information will help you make up your own mind. The tour operator that Royal Caribbean teamed up with did a really nice job when I made this journey myself in February 2018. During the long ride out to the site, each couple was handed an iPad with photos and diagrams that our guide explained in detail so that we could make most of our limited time at the destination. He regaled us with lots of details on Mayan culture and history, but honestly the only thing that stuck in my brain is that the name Yucatan is actually derived from the Mayan term “you talk funny” uttered by the natives upon first contact with the arriving Europeans. Sufficiently equipped with a knowledge of what we’d see and what to look for, most of us ate our very meager bag lunches (like, ham and cheese sandwiches you would have brought to school, only without the note from your mom) and marveled at the throngs of tourists flocking to this remote outpost in the jungle. While it’s hard to imagine so many people visiting the location on their land-based tours, it did confirm that we were about to witness something rather special. Passing through the crowded visitor center, our guide took us down a long walkway lined with vendors, that in view of the time constraints, are best browsed on the way out. The main attraction was up ahead on an open field – El Castillo, the iconic pyramid that characterizes what is really an enormous complex of ruins. While our guide directed our attention to all the details I tuned out on the ride over, I went to town taking pictures, looking for unique angles and basically just absorbing the vibe of the place. We did a somewhat hurried tour of the main attractions like the ball field and some impressive colonnades, but again, the main draw to non-Maya scholars is the scenery and the vibe. Cue the rolling boulder. After about an hour of circling the basic tourist track (there’s a ton more to see if you have the time) we passed through the gauntlet of vendors, used the restrooms and were back in the van. Here’s where your own sense of math comes in: Is 6 hours of travel equal to or greater than 1 hour of sightseeing? The answer is, of course, it depends.
Chichen Itza3
Ancient Mayan Emojis? Chichen Itza, Mexico

My Professional and Personal Opinions

So was it worth it to me? Professionally speaking, if my travel clients had never been to Mexico before, and weren’t tremendously interested in world heritage sites, I would not recommend this excursion. You can get a similar flavor by going to Tulum or other sites that don’t require such exertion and would still leave you time to shop for liquor on the way back. Personally, since I’ve been to Cozumel a few times, and had spent approximately 80% of my time there underwater (the diving is superb) I found that being able to see in person such a historic and iconic site with my own eyes was well worth the effort. Now the important question is this: Is my professional or personal opinion the one you should trust? Come on people, you should really know the answer by now. But just in case you don’t, I would 100% absolutely without hesitation say:  it depends.

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