The undiscovered beaches of Brazil, the secret kingdom of Bhutan, the isolated safari lodges of Tanzania—for three couples, a long-haul trip proved to be the perfect honeymoon
Whales are frolicking off Praia do Rosa, surfers are taming Florianópolis's breaks, and Grace and I are enjoying our own aquatic adventure, sipping champagne in our suite's whirlpool, gazing at the fishing boats plying the emerald coast. There's something to be said for a honeymoon in Santa Catarina, a Brazilian state with long, windswept beaches, rare marine life, and a surfeit of Gisele Bündchen types (the supermodel is from a neighboring state and visits frequently).
Our first stop is Ponta dos Ganchos, a 20-bungalow hotel on a peninsula outside the fishing village of Governador Celso Ramos. We feel spoiled: our enormous room has panoramic ocean views, furnishings that match the colors of the palms hanging over our sundeck, and all the requisite luxuries: a flat-screen TV, a bed that seems twice the size of our Brooklyn apartment. "I could get used to this," my wife says from the walk-in shower. This might be a problem, I think.
We spend our days swinging in hammocks, stirring only for grilled shrimp flambéed with cachaça at the open-air restaurant. The highlight?A candlelit dinner for two on a small island. We are lucky to get a reservation (only one party is allowed on the island at a time), and as the waiter delivers our champagne, Grace goes dreamy. I promise to buy us an island one day.
If Ponta dos Ganchos is sexy and secluded, the island of Florianópolis is Hawaii without volcanoes. When we arrive, a surfing championship is in progress on Joaquina beach—naturally, there's Gisele watching Kelly Slater from the shore. In the evenings, the beautiful people cram into the clubs, turning the place into a Latino St.-Tropez. In truth, Grace and I prefer Ostradamus, an oyster restaurant in Ribeirão da Ilha, a cobblestoned village that has not changed much in 300 years.
In 2000, a part of Santa Catarina was declared a whale sanctuary, and decades after being hunted to near extinction, the majestic southern right whales now breed here. It is South America's best whale watching, especially at Praia do Rosa, a beach town where the eco-resort Pousada Vida Sol e Mar runs excursions along the coast. The boat gets so close to the creatures we can almost touch their barnacles. We're heading back to shore when Grace spots a calf in the swells. "Look, honey, a baby!" she says, beaming. Babies and a private island: I have work to do.—DOUGLAS ROGERS
We are 150 steep stone steps away from the 17th-century, cliff-hugging Taktsang Monastery. My knees are shaking from fear and cold, and my head is spinning with altitude sickness. Using my hands as blinders to avoid seeing the 2,000-foot plummet waiting beyond a single six-inch misstep, I realize something: walking down the aisle was only slightly scarier than this.
Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom of snowy Himalayan peaks and stupa-studded valleys, is butterfly-inducing all around. Even my husband, Steve, who was a rock at our wedding, got misty when seeing the country for the first time, from a plane 35,000 feet in the air. He insisted it had nothing to do with the fact that we were on our third flight or that the pilot had just "assured" the passengers, "It may look like we're going to crash into the mountains, but don't worry. We won't."
There's not a single tourist trap in the country (there isn't even a traffic light), which means that we spend our days climbing, walking sticks in hand, up to Buddhist temples and fortresses, or biking down pristine switchback mountain trails. Outsiders cannot visit holy places unaccompanied, so we often travel with our Bhutanese guide, Dorji, a serene 23-year-old who talks to us about her past reincarnations and is endlessly amused by our modest displays of "Western" affection (that would be hand-holding).
Not that we don't have plenty of alone time. A mere 13,000 tourists visit Bhutan each year, and it feels as if we're the only guests at the understatedly luxurious Uma Paro. (Government requirements make it impossible to spend less than $200 a day here, which means that the patchouli- loving backpackers remain across the range in Nepal.) One reason that Steve and I chose Bhutan is that it is so extravagant, remote, and difficult to get to, we thought a trip here could only be justified as a post-wedding indulgence.
We actually love the absence of distracting on-site hotel activities. There's really not that much to do, other than the favorite Bhutanese pastime, archery, which we attempt (Steve, decent; me, not so much). All of which leaves more time for lounging together in the Uma spa's traditional Bhutanese hot-stone bath. Steve and I melt in this secluded outdoor tub, warmed by fire-heated river stones, smiling as we sip steaming cups of ginger tea. If marriage is anything like this, then we are in for a lifetime of bliss. —JESSICA SHAW
My husband, Tim, and I have been lured on a safari by the Out of Africa dream: the proximity to Mother Nature, the outright adventure. Not only does the name Tanzania sound effortlessly exotic, but also, for me, East Africa retains the mystique of a wilder, less trodden path, something that a place like South Africa has lost.
Fantasies aside, nothing prepares us for our arrival at Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater—a 12-mile-wide caldera teeming with wildlife—or for Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, which, like all of our stops, is a CC Africa property. The cluster of mud huts on stilts, inspired by the traditional Masai style, clings to the lip of the vast basin; below, we can see herds of basking zebras and snorting buffalo. Inside, the rooms are incongruously opulent, with chandeliers, ﬁreplaces, and four-poster beds draped in velvet. There are panoramic views, even from our bathroom, where a bubble bath strewn with fragrant rose petals is awaiting us.
Early the next morning, we descend right into that view, passing local Masai children walking barefoot to school. As the sun rises, the crater floor comes alive with elephants, wildebeests, hyenas, ostriches, and lions. Tim and I feel especially fortunate when we spot an endangered black rhino.
The hop to the next lodge is on a hair-raising ﬂight in a minuscule propeller plane, but our bird's-eye peek of Mount Kilimanjaro makes it worthwhile. Klein's Camp, on the northern edge of the Serengeti, is private property, so other than the lodge's 20 guests there are no tourists within 24,000 acres—just the odd Masai herdsman tending his cattle. From the veranda in our circular stone cottage we spot elephant herds grazing below and eagles circling above, inspiring Tim to use the easel and watercolors provided in our room.
Our next stop paints a whole new picture: tranquil Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, surrounded by the mountain escarpment of the Great Rift Valley. CC Africa owns the only accommodations in this national park: 10 cabins cradled in the boughs of ancient mahogany trees. We wake to baboons on our balcony and set off with our ranger, Claude, searching for rare tree-climbing lions and the 387 species of birds, including candy-colored flamingos. We see hippos, impalas, and many birds, but no lions. As we're about to leave, we spot two of them, 30 feet up in the branches, as though they've appeared just for us.—VANESSA BARNEBY
Ponta dos Ganchos
104 Rua Eupídio Alves do Nascimento, Gov. Celso Ramos; 800/ 735-2478 or 55-48/3262-5000; www.pontadosganchos.com.br; doubles from $445, including all meals.
7640 Rod. Baldicero Filomeno, Ribeirão da Ilha; 55-48/3337-5711; dinner for two $40.
Pousada Vida Sol e Mar, Estrada Geral da Praia do Rosa, Imbituba; 55-48/3355-6111; www.vidasolemar.com.br; whale-watching trips from $40 per person.
Paro, Bhutan; 975- 8/271-597; www.uma.como.bz; doubles from $250.
CC Africa Lodges
888/882-3742; www.ccafrica.com. Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, doubles from $640; Klein's Camp, $980; Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, $980; prices include meals and daily safari drives.