In the past two years, I’ve taken great care to pick my travel destinations based on their wheelchair accessibility. Some have been easy and expected, like Sydney, Oslo, and Dublin. Other countries have been complete surprises, for various reasons. Most of them I decided to visit solely because I read in some magazine article or blog post that they were wheelchair friendly. I’d like to round up some of these countries in this post for you, so here are a dozen countries that I initially thought were not wheelchair accessible, but once I arrived (or did some research), realized were totally doable, either on my own or with the help of a local accessible tour company.
1. Iceland. This small Nordic island country is one of the current travel “hot spots” despite it’s name. It’s a land of breathtaking landscapes, covered in black volcanic rock, trademark yellow-green lichens, and icy glaciers. I discovered Iceland was accessible after reading a blog post by my friend and fellow accessible travel blogger Cory Lee on Curb Free with Cory Lee. Full-day tours of Reykjavik, the Reykjanes peninsula, and more can be arranged, and wheelchair taxis are available in the capital. If you don’t mind being lifted and carried for a short distance, you can even take a helicopter tour over glaciers and volcanoes!
2. Poland. This Eastern European country was never even close to being on my travel radar until I read in a magazine article that both the capital city of Warsaw and Kraków where wheelchair accessible. Much of Warsaw has been rebuilt due to the devastation of World War II, and as a result most of the pedestrian areas and all of the public transportation is wheelchair friendly. Kraków still has some cobblestones to deal with, and while many of the churches can be challenging, Old Town and the beautiful thoroughfares are easy to navigate.
3. Netherlands. When I first pictured Amsterdam, all I could see in my head was countless bridges, canals, and million bicyclists crowding the sidewalks. While the latter is definitely an ever present hazard, Amsterdam is completely flat and the sidewalks are perfectly smooth. While there still are cobblestones in some places, there are actually few steps to deal with on the street, even on the bridges–although shop and restaurant entry can be challenging. Fortunately, there are plenty of eateries with outdoor seating to choose from. You won’t go hungry! I also took a fully wheelchair accessible river cruise that stops in several tiny Dutch towns where I was able to take amazing fully step-free tours. (Read my tips for how to get around Amsterdam in a wheelchair.)
4. Israel. In late October 2017, I will be spending three days in Israel with a tour company that will be taking us through several parts of the country, including Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and even out to the Dead Sea. Wheelchair taxis are available, and accessible hotel rooms in the cities are pretty easy to find. Some of the historic spots have some steps to negotiate, but tour guides will point you in the direction of ramps and the best viewing areas. Even the Dead Sea has a wheelchair ramp that will take you right to the water.
5. Ecuador. In January 2017, my friend Cory Lee went on a week-long guided tour in Ecuador that included some time in the capital Quito, as well as the Amazon rain forest! The tour company used a specially adapted is manual wheelchair in order to securely take Cory through some of the more difficult terrain. He visited Baños, and even stayed in the only fully accessible accommodation in the Ecuadorian rain forest. He got to make his own chocolate and try some of the darkest chocolate in the world, and of course visited the equator.
6. Morocco. In April 2018, I will be taking part in a guided group tour of Morocco, and I could not be more excited for my first trip to the African continent! We will be arriving and departing from Casablanca, and visiting Marrakech, Fes, and Rabat. Based on the tour companies descriptions, we will be able to see many historic areas, drive through beautiful desert landscapes, and visit the famed spice markets.
7. Portugal. Portugal, and especially the capital city of Lisbon, has somewhat of a reputation for being very hilly and not wheelchair friendly as a result. I had actually been avoiding it until the opportunity to spend some time in Lisbon and route to Casablanca came up. Then I found not one, but two accessible tour companies based in Portugal! The one I chose will be showing me some of the most beautiful parts of Lisbon, as well as Oporto and cities like Óbidos, Nazaré, and Batalha, as well as stops in Sintra, Cascais, and Cabo da Roca. I will get to see a range of sights from castles to beaches, and I can’t wait!
8. South Africa. Honestly, the biggest thing that has prevented me from doing more research on accessibility in South Africa has been the considerable distance and lengthy flight time from my home base in Florida. But a recent fully accessible Safari excursion by my friend Cory and a separate Cape Town visit by another accessible travel blogger friend of mine John Morris of WheelchairTravel got me thinking twice. Cory explored enormous wildlife reserves and got to see giraffes, lions, and even hippos up-close and personal, while riding in a wheelchair accessible vehicle with a lift and staying in accessible huts along the way. Cape Town was one of the cities selected to be part of a pilot project on universal accessibility, and as such, guided wheelchair tours and transportation are available for visitors.
9. Barbados. Winter is a slow time for me as far as travel because most of the places I usually enjoy visiting are too cold. I always thought of the Caribbean as an inaccessible place because of the older infrastructure and LOTS of sand. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered several resorts in Bridgetown with accessible rooms and even tour companies with wheelchair vans! My friend Azure and I got to visit Harrison’s Cave, the Soup Bowl along Bathsheba beach, the George Washington House, Independence Square, and even St. John’s Church and Cherry Hill Point. (Read my suggestions for wheelchair accessible things to do in Barbados.)
10. Slovenia. This is another one of those places that I decided to visit because I read in a list somewhere that the capital of Ljubljana was one of the most accessible in Europe; in 2015 it won the Bronze Access City Award. In just a few days, I will be taking a multi-day guided accessible tour of this tiny European jewel. In addition to Ljubljana, I will be able to visit Lake Bohinj, take the cable car up to the winter ski resort of Vogel, visit Bled and its famous island with a church and a medieval castle on the rock overlooking the lake. After a short tour around the lake, I will have the opportunity to try Bled´s famous cream cake “kremšnita.” Yes, please!
11. United Arab Emirates. I often joke that Dubai looks like Las Vegas and Disney World had a baby, and Beverly Hills threw the shower. This is easily one of the most overwhelming and surreal places I’ve ever visited in the world, and not coincidentally it’s also one of the most wheelchair friendly world cities as well. Almost everything in Dubai has been constructed within the last 20 years, and it’s modernity definitely lends to accessibility. I was able to visit the top of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, experience the famous (or notorious) Friday brunch experience at the Atlantis Palm Jumeirah resort, and even ride on a camel during an accessible wheelchair safari experience. If your budget allows, Dubai should definitely be at the top of your bucket list!
Are you inspired to visit any of these amazing (and unexpectedly) accessible destinations? Visit my accessible travel agency’s website at Spin the Globe/Travel and let me arrange your next wheelchair-friendly adventure!