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Dream Big with These Destinations

No one dreams of traveling to a destination that’s just down the road or visiting an attraction in their hometown. Why would they?

People dream of exploring unfamiliar lands where they can access the seemingly unreachable and experience the unimaginable. Maybe that’s sleeping in a castle several hundred years older than their home country, witnessing a natural phenomenon that can only be seen at the ends of the earth, or watching exotic or endangered animals in their natural habitat.

If you want to make your travelers dreams come true, plan trips to some of these once-in-a-lifetime destinations.

Castle Hotels in Ireland

Most Americans can only imagine seeing centuries-old castles in their backyards, so being able to stay in one overnight is a distinctly European opportunity. Some of Ireland’s historic castles have been turned into hotels where guests can experience life as medieval nobility or landed gentry.

Ashford Castle in County Mayo sits on a private 350-acre wooded estate that was once owned by one of Ireland’s most well-known names: the Guinness family. Today, the 700-year-old castle is a five-star luxury hotel that reopened in April 2015 after a $50 million restoration. With 83 rooms and suites, the castle can accommodate up to 166 overnight guests who, during their stay, can fish from a traditional wooden boat in the nearby lake, fly a hawk at Ireland’s oldest falconry school or test their aim at archery and clay shooting.

Nineteen miles northwest of Limerick, Dromoland Castle is another five-star castle hotel, but it is one of the few castles that began as the ancestral home of a native Gaelic royal family. The 1540s castle was built entirely of dark-blue limestone and today has 100 rooms. Dromoland also offers horseback riding, archery and falconry.

For groups that want the castle experience while sticking close to the city, both Clontarf and Fitzpatrick castles might fit the bill. Dating to the late 1100s, Clontarf Castle sits just three miles from Dublin’s city center and five miles from Dublin Airport. Many of the castle’s 111 guest rooms deliver Old World style with four-poster beds and views of the Dublin Mountains. Fitzpatrick Castle is a 40-minute drive south of the city, and some of the 18th-century hotel’s 113 guest rooms overlook Dublin Bay.

Costa Rica’s Beaches and Rain Forests

Costa Rica covers a relatively thin stretch of Central America, bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. It’s only 197 miles wide but boasts more than 800 miles of coastline. With so much beachfront, visiting groups spend plenty of time snorkeling, surfing and sailing, said Ines Cano, a spokeswoman for the Tourism Board of Costa Rica.

Operators up and down the coasts take about 10 to 20 passengers sailing on catamarans, with larger groups going out on more than one boat to sightsee and watch the sunset. About 340 miles off the Pacific coast, Cocos Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s famous among divers for its fish and coral species. Also on the central Pacific coast, Manuel Antonio National Park’s 1,700 acres wander from the white-sand beaches up into the mountains. There, snorkelers and divers will find an underwater cave, and hikers may see capuchin monkeys, sloths and toucans on guided treks. On the Caribbean side, Manzanillo Beach and Cahuita National Park are popular for snorkeling.

About one-quarter of Costa Rica’s rich, rain-forest-swathed land is protected in national parks and preserves, and whitewater rafting is a favorite inland adventure for visiting groups. Pacuare River is the country’s longest river and spills through rapids that range from mild to wild. Groups can explore the entire stretch in about two days or simply do an afternoon outing; either way, a rafting trip — or kayaking or riverboarding — will deliver adventure on the water and plenty of wildlife in the surrounding rain forest.

Zip-lining and canopy tours in the cloud forest and rain forest are popular with groups, Cano said, and in Costa Rica, it can range from “just sliding along and getting the view to extreme sports.” Adventure-seekers can opt for courses that require participants to bungee jump or do “Tarzan swings.”