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As we near the end of 2017, it’s time to take stock of where we’ve been this year, and what’s on deck for the New Year — where in this great, wide world we’ll touch down in 2018. Here, in alphabetical order, are 18 fantastic destinations to inspire your next trip.
This small Atlantic island chain in Portugal is going to get a lot more accessible come May 24, when Delta begins operating a flight five times weekly to Ponta Delgada (PDL) from its hub at New York-JFK. The route joins the only other nonstop service to and from the US on Azores Airlines from Boston Logan (BOS).
The archipelago of nine volcanic islands offers myriad activities for nature lovers: whale watching and swimming with dolphins, exploring ancient volcanic calderas and bathing in the geothermal pools at Terra Nostra Garden, and scenic mountaintop hikes and bike rides.
The main town of Ponta Delgada, on São Miguel, has a population of just 60,000 people and is rife with centuries of history. Don’t miss the rustic-chic Azor Hotel — its Panorama Bar has some of the best views in town — or restaurants like Saca-Rolhas Taberna or Mané Cigano, which make use of the islands’ pristine seafood.
If you’re looking to get away from it all, check out Furnas Boutique Hotel, Azor’s sister property up in the hills and a wellness retreat with indoor thermal pools, spa treatments and outdoor adventure activities. Or, the 17th-century Convento de São Francisco, which has been turned into a ascetic, albeit aesthetically pleasing, inn. Check this site for listings of festivals and events throughout the year across all the Azores.
Argentina, Brazil and Peru have all had their moments to shine, but the South American spotlight is now on Bolivia. Seemingly overnight, La Paz has suddenly become the capital of cool (it’s also the highest-altitude capital city in the world, for all you geography dorks out there).
The city’s futuristic network of aerial trams, called Mi Teleférico, has cut commuting times dramatically. And Atix, its new(ish) destination hotel, each room is like a miniature art gallery, reflecting the growing number of local galleries representing Bolivian artists. A crop of fine-dining restaurants has also started springing up since the opening of Gustu, which was founded by Noma co-owner Claus Meyer, and has ranked on San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for four years running.
Apart from La Paz, many visitors gravitate toward the high-altitude salt flats of the southwest, where you can stay in a hotel constructed almost entirely of salt, or venture farther afield on overnight camping trips.
Lake Titicaca is another popular destination. The Bolivian shore is less touristed than that of the Peruvian side, and there are fascinating archaeological sites like the ruins of Tiwanaku, which predate the Incan Empire. Sucre, the country’s constitutional capital, has beautiful colonial buildings, while, up in the north, travelers can explore the Amazon basin and its wildlife-rich rainforests.
The country’s capital, Phnom Penh, will soon be home to a luxurious new Rosewood Hotel, slated to open in early 2018 atop the city’s tallest building. Sites dedicated to the darker chapters in the country’s recent past, such as the Killing Fields and the S-21 Prison, which is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, are more accessible than ever (though they’re becoming more commercialized). And, thanks to new river cruises from operators like AmaWaterways, so are previously overlooked stretches of the Mekong, like the remote fishing villages of Kampong Chhnang and the southern shores of Tonle Sap.
Travelers looking to get away from the party beaches of Thailand and Vietnam will find the country’s southern coast still mostly undeveloped. That quietude might not last forever, though; forthcoming luxury properties (like Six Senses on Krabey Island and the Alila Villas Koh Russey) will surely enliven the previously sleepy beaches and islands around Sihanoukville. Now is the time to get there before everyone else discovers this unspoiled corner of Southeast Asia. Luckily, there’s frequent bus and cheap car service from Phnom Penh, plus flights from the capital as well as Ho Chi Minh City.
If you do decide to go to Bolivia, consider adding Ecuador to your itinerary. Sandwiched between two other destinations that have recently exploded in popularity, Colombia and Peru (which themselves make a great combo trip), Ecuador has some of South America’s most engaging sights, yet has somehow remained under the radar.
In the past couple of years, we’ve seen airfares from the US dip below $300 round-trip to Guayaquil (GYE) and Quito (UIO), which has beautiful colonial buildings, like the ornate Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús and the enormous Basílica del Voto Nacional. The city is surrounded by dizzying peaks, including the Pichincha Volcano, which you can ascend via the TelefériQo gondola lift for fabulous city views.
South of the capital, travelers can explore mountains and steppes as they hike, bike and horseback-ride on various tours, or stop at the haciendas sprinkled throughout the countryside. The banner travel experience, however, is a trip out to the Galápagos Islands to see the fabled wildlife. If money is no object, top-notch tour operators (including National Geographic Expeditions) allow visitors to get up close and personal with the flora and fauna.
You can also forgo expensive cruises in favor of affordable land-based tours. Up in the cloud forests of the north, nature lovers can marvel at rare species of orchids and frogs, not to mention hundreds of types of birds and butterflies, in one of the most biodiverse landscapes on Earth, all while staying in comfort at a world-class eco-lodge like Mashpi.
This former Soviet satellite most recently declared independence in 1991 with the breakup of the USSR, but the country was first established as the Republic of Estonia back in 1918. It’s marking its 100th birthday with a series of special events and celebrations next year, including the My Free Country exhibit at the Estonian History Museum, Tallinn Music Week and Tallinn Medieval Days. There will be concerts in the baroque Kadriorg Park, plus musical performances at the dramatic Pirita Convent ruins in August and the handicrafts fair of St. Martin’s Day and the Black Nights Film Festival, both in November.
Of course, Tallinn’s cobbled streets and colorful buildings are reason enough to visit any time of year. But don’t forget about Estonia’s second city, Tartu, where the Christmas fair at the Exhibition Fair Center has become one of the country’s biggest events.
Estonia has earned its place beside Denmark and Sweden at the forefront of new Nordic cuisine, thanks to the dining scene in Tallin (marked by sophisticated restaurants like Restoran Ö and Leib, plus a new gourmet food hall near the Balti Jaam train station) and out in the hinterlands (like at the grandly restored mansion-turned-luxury-retreat Pädaste Manor, siutated on pastoral Muhu Island). For shopping, Tallinn’s newly revitalized Telliskivi Creative City district is the place to browse locally designed clothes, housewares and beauty products. Though you can’t get to Tallinn Airport (TLL) nonstop from the US, there are plenty of connecting options on Finnair, SAS and newer low-budget airlines like airBaltic.
It might seem strange to see Hawaii thrown into a mix of more far-flung destinations, but the Aloha State is a foolproof destination thanks to year-round balmy weather, some of the world’s best beach resorts and a sense of warm hospitality that never seems to flag. Plus, you don’t have to go through customs and immigration or change money.
There will be more flight options to Hawaii than ever once Southwest begins flying there (or at least selling tickets) in 2018. Hopefully we will see great promotional airfares both from Southwest and its competitors.
There has also been a spate of hotel openings and reopenings across the islands in recent months, including many points properties. Waikiki saw the launch of a Hyatt Centric, a Holiday Inn Express and The Laylow, Autograph Collection, from Marriott, not to mention a whole new Hilton Grand Vacations Club wing at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. And those are just a few of the new hotels that popped up on Oahu this last year. Starwood Preferred Guest members should be glad to learn that SPG has opened the Westin Nanea Ocean Villas on Maui, though award availability is nil in high season and award redemptions seem to start at 40,000 points for one-bedrooms. There are plenty more on the other islands, which makes Hawaii the perfect destination to put those hard-earned points and miles to work next year.
Like the seismic events that formed this land of fire and ice, Iceland seems to undergo cycles of dramatic change. Before the financial meltdown of 2008, Iceland was the hottest destination at least partially in the Arctic Circle (look up Grimsey Island). A few years on, the country has doubled down on tourism and emerged from the financial ruins with a stronger travel industry than ever.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Icelandair and low-cost carrier WOW air have made Keflavik (KEF) airport a major intercontinental hub with fares that can dip below $200 round-trip from the US. Delta flies here from New York (JFK) year-round. In 2018, United will offer seasonal flights from Newark (EWR) from May to October, and American Airlines just announced that it would begin seasonal service from its hub in Dallas (DFW) to Keflavik from June to October as well.
Also drawing record numbers of visitors? Must-see sights and experiences like snorkeling between the tectonic plates at Silfra, the powerful steam eruptions at Geysir and the breathtaking seascapes of Snaefellsnes Peninsula. That’s not to mention a rash of recent hotel openings including a Canopy by Hilton and the Ion City Hotel in Reykjavik (a sister to the existing Ion Adventure Hotel in Thingvellir National Park, and also a member of Design Hotels, where you can earn and redeem Starwood Starpoints). There’s also the design-driven Fosshotel Myvatn on a lakeshore in the country’s north and, most notably, the new 62-room Retreat Blue Lagoon, complete with a spa carved into an 800-year-old lava flow.
India is a subcontinent, and it truly does feel like it with its massive number of destinations. Rather than tackle the whole country, concentrate your travels on a single region. Then leave the others for the next trip — and the next.
For first-timers, the so-called Golden Triangle from New Delhi (where an Andaz opened at the end of last year) and Agra to Rajasthan is always popular, since it means visits to the Taj Mahal (which is in the midst of being cleaned), the pink city of Jaipur, lakeside Udaipur and the tigers of Ranthambore National Park. Up in the Himalayan foothills of the north, you can visit mystical ashrams and the spiritual city of Rishikesh near the headwaters of the Ganges, as well as world-class Ayurvedic spas like Ananda in the Himalayas (an Oprah favorite).
Down in the south, the backwaters around Kerala have become popular with folks looking for a sedate way to see one of India’s lushest regions by boat, including one operated by Indian luxury chain Oberoi. Or you can stay in one of the many charming family-run guesthouses in the area for a glimpse of daily life. Hampi, meanwhile, has become a hotspot in the southwest, thanks to the new Evolve Back resort, which gives visitors unparalleled access to the UNESCO-listed ruins of 14th-century Vijayanagara Empire.
You might recognize this small Mediterranean island nation as the backdrop for several pivotal Game of Thrones scenes, but there is much more to Malta than that. The UNESCO-listed capital of Valletta will be the European Capital of Culture for 2018. In celebration, there will be hundreds of festivals and events throughout the year, including an opening week running from Jan. 14 to 21 with music, entertainment, open-air performances and special exhibitions throughout the city. There are also annual events to look forward to, including individual festas, or feasts, in villages all over the country during the summer to honor each place’s patron saints. The Malta World Music Festival takes place in May, the Malta International Arts Festival is in June, the Malta Jazz Festival will be in July, and the all-night Notte Bianca festival of arts and entertainment occurs in October.
The island of Malta itself is practically littered with archaeological sites and ruins, some of which date back thousands of years. The other major island of Gozo has some of Europe’s best scuba spots, including the famous Blue Hole. Tiny Comino, which lies right between the other two islands, is home to the similarly named Blue Lagoon, which is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
One negative note: The country has been the subject of scrutiny because of the recent murder (by car bomb) of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was investigating a fuel-smuggling network and corruption allegations against Maltese authorities. The investigation into her death is still underway, but you can follow the story and decide how it might impact your decision to travel here or not.
Morocco has been a jet-set favorite for decades now since luminaries like Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin roamed the halls of La Mamounia. These days, you’re likely to see Usher and David and Victoria Beckham roaming the country’s souks. Luckily, there are plenty of great reasons other than celebrity stalking to put Morocco on your map.
First, the much-anticipated Yves Saint Laurent Museum opened its doors in Marrakesh this year with a fabulous exhibit devoted to the designs of the fashion icon; it’s adjacent to the city’s historic Jardin Majorelle botanical garden, where Saint Laurent’s ashes were scattered. The city is home to some of Africa’s finest luxury hotels, including the Amanjena, the Royal Mansour and a Mandarin Oriental that opened in 2015. It will welcome new hotels including an Oberoi and a W (opening at the end of 2019).
Up on the country’s northern Mediterranean coast, the beach towns of Tamuda Bay have heated up thanks to the recent openings of new resorts such as the Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay, Sofitel Tamuda Bay Beach Resort and Spa and an upcoming Ritz-Carlton Reserve. In Fez, the al-Qarawiyyin Library, which was originally founded in 859, was restored and reopened to the public at the end of 2016, so you can now stop by to peruse the 4,000-plus rare manuscripts and books as well as the elaborate original architecture and mosaics.
On the Atlantic Coast, meanwhile, the whitewashed town of Essaouira has some of Morocco’s sleepiest souks for souvenir shopping, elegant riads tucked away down hidden lanes, and impressive Portuguese ramparts. For a taste of the mountains and life along the old caravan trails, stop in the famous blue town of Chefchaouen, or consider a sojourn in the holy village of Moulay Idriss in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, which only opened to non-Muslim visitors in the past few years.
Because of a long-simmering but long-over civil war, this southern African nation has been overlooked in favor of more developed safari destinations like South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana. But Mozambique is ready for its moment in the sun.
The country’s airports have short (and usually inexpensive) flights from other African hubs such as Johannesburg (JNB) and Addis Ababa (ADD). Mozambique boasts an unspoiled coastline stretching over 1,500 miles with beautiful beaches and pristine waters that are home to rare wild dugongs and many other marine species, not to mention some of Africa’s most luxurious lodges, including the &Beyond Benguerra Island in Bazaruto Archipelago national park.
For a land safari, Gorongosa National Park has transitioned from a hunting reserve to a model for sustainable wildlife and habitat conservation. The capital of Maputo, meanwhile, has been buzzing on the international music scene, while former colonial backwaters like the UNESCO-listed Ilha do Moçambique in the north, from which the entire nation derives its name, are chock-full of charming guesthouses and B&Bs.
12. New Orleans
Some doubted whether the Crescent City could ever come back after Hurricane Katrina swept through in 2005. But in the years since, New Orleans has bounced back and reclaimed the joie de vivre for which it has long been known. There’s even more reason to celebrate in 2018, since it marks the city’s 300th anniversary.
Among the special events and exhibits are a tricentennial Mass at St. Louis Cathedral in January, a special exhibition about the city’s founding and long history at the Historic New Orleans Collection, Tall Ships of America in April, the New Orleans Jazz Fest in May, the Nola4Women Global Summit on Women and Girls and the Church in the Crescent exhibit at the Old Ursuline Convent. That’s all in addition to the usual merrymaking of Mardi Gras.
The city also has several major infrastructure projects underway, including the building of the new North Terminal at Louis Armstrong International Airport, the completion of the Lafitte Greenway Bicycle and Pedestrian Path spanning 2.6 miles from Mid-City to the French Quarter, a $6 million repair and upgrade to Bourbon Street and the $360 million redevelopment of the World Trade Center into a new Four Seasons Hotel. In short, there’s going to be a lot new in New Orleans.
13. Papua New Guinea
Though the capital of Port Moresby often lands on lists of most dangerous cities in the world, the rest of Papua New Guinea is like a land untouched by time and teeming with primordial rainforests, thriving offshore reefs and dive sites, vibrant tribal cultures, stunning mountain ranges and coursing rivers and waterfalls.
The infrastructure here is mostly undeveloped, but that just means you won’t run into too many other tourists. The main mode of transportation is light aircraft, so plan to spend time circumnavigating mountain peaks and uninhabited islands.
That effort is worth it to participate in tribal festivals like musical “sing-sings” and multi-day jungle treks to spot the islands’ diverse birds and butterflies and rare species like tree kangaroos. Visitors can kayak along the many interior waterways, and big-wave surf along the coasts. There are also new but well-established outfits like Village Huts, Tufi Dive Resort and Walindi Resort to provide superior accommodations, on-the-ground support and insider access to both off-the-beaten-path sites and experiences the average traveler might not be able to reach. Your best options to get here are to fly via Brisbane (BNE) on either Qantas or Virgin Australia.
Brexit might be causing pain for the UK’s economy, but it’s a boon to US travelers looking to stretch their dollars even further, and Scotland has become something of a bargain. Even getting here is cheaper than ever, thanks to ultra-low fares on Norwegian that dipped as low as $65 one-way.
No first trip here would be complete without a visit to Edinburgh, where the Hilton Edinburgh Carlton opened last year, and a luxurious Rosewood property is scheduled to open in the former Royal High School (originally built in 1829) next year. The city’s picturesque streets are a hodgepodge of the Elizabethan, Stuart and Georgian eras, but there are plenty of contemporary corners to check out, including restaurants like Michelin-starred 21212. The country’s other major city, Glasgow, is grittier, and home to interesting museums like the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, with its impressive collection of Scottish painters, and the Tall Ship at Riverside, devoted to the country’s maritime past. Engineering junkies won’t want to miss taking a boat ride on the Falkirk Wheel connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal.
Of course, much of Scotland’s legendary beauty lies outside its cities. Take the train up to Pitlochry in the Highlands to visit distilleries like Edradour and Blair Athol. Pay a visit to Cameron House on Loch Lomond to go fishing out on one of Britain’s largest lakes. Stroll through the seaside village of Oban for fish and chips before a visit to the town’s eponymous distillery. If you have more time, consider island hopping for a few days to Arran, Islay, Jura and Iona off the western coast.
15. United Arab Emirates
It seems like most people just transit through one of the UAE’s two major airports, Dubai (DXB) and Abu Dhabi (AUH), on Emirates or Etihad, respectively, en route somewhere else. But this small Gulf state might well be worth a visit in and of itself this year thanks to a few (new) key factors.
The coming year marks the so-called Year of Zayed, in honor of the centennial of the birth of the UAE’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. To celebrate, the country will undertake a yearlong series of initiatives, events and projects that look toward the future; programming themes will include tolerance, societal development, unity and prosperity.
The commemorative year got off to an early start thanks to expectations of an economic rebound as well as a cultural juggernaut: the opening of the long-anticipated Louvre Abu Dhabi on Nov. 11. The monumental museum was designed by architect Jean Nouvel and is made up of nearly two dozen galleries, a children’s museum, an auditorium, restaurants and shops. For a look at the region’s history, the Etihad Museum in Dubai looks back over several decades to the UAE’s founding. Some 80 hotels are expected to open in the UAE next year alone, including both a W and an Edition by Marriott in Dubai. Plus, folks coming from from Brussels and Geneva at least will have Emirates’ new first-class suites to look forward to, while the rest of us will just have to settle for Etihad’s First Apartment.
16. Valle de Guadalupe
When someone says “California wine country,” you might think of Napa or Sonoma. But these days, they’re just as likely to mean Baja California, referring to the emerging Valle de Guadelupe, about 90 miles south of San Diego. The scenic valley is a desert-like landscape of jagged hills and lush, leafy vineyards, and it produces some of Mexico’s, if not North America’s, best wines. The only downside is that most of them aren’t exported, which means if you want to try them, you have to visit.
Encuentro has been enticing overnight visitors for a few years now with its eco-chic cabins perched dramatically on the valley’s mountainsides, and the hacienda-style Villa del Valle is a favorite for romantic getaways. But the area is set for a major addition to its accommodation infrastructure with the opening of an exciting new 58-suite hotel at the landmark El Cielo winery.
Speaking of wineries, head to Paralelo and Monte Xanic to taste some of the area’s best sauvignon blancs, and go for the full-bodied reds at Decantos Vinícola and La Lomita. The region is also home to one of Mexico’s most exciting dining, thanks to the hyperlocal Baja-Med cuisine you’ll find at restaurants like Corazón de Tierra and Finca Altozano.
17. Victoria, Australia
Travelers Down Under tend to hit the same old spots: Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru. But the state of Victoria has plenty to entice both first-time and return visitors alike. Not only that, but flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Melbourne (MEL) will be the first route to get Qantas’ newly delivered Boeing Dreamliners.
The Economist has ranked Melbourne the world’s most livable city seven years in a row because of a bustling social calendar and its low crime rate. The city boasts Australia’s most dynamic restaurant scene, including fine-dining standouts like Attica and Cutler & Co., as well as the more casual Movida. In counterpoint to the urban decay of many other metropolises, the dense city center’s streets and lanes are packed with businesses, boutiques and shops, and have some of the most interesting street art in the world. Melbourne is also host to the Australian Open tennis tournament every January and the Melbourne Cup horse race in November, though you can also catch cricket and rugby games galore depending on the season.
The rest of the state isn’t short on sightseeing either. The Great Ocean Road, one of the most scenic drives in the world, runs between the towns of Torquay and Warrnambool and passes by the famous Twelve Apostles rock formations off the coast. Victoria is home to one of Australia’s most established wine regions, the Yarra Valley, as well as the up-and-coming Mornington Peninsula, home to the Jackalope Hotel, one of Australia’s most exciting new hotels, and a bunch of new wineries. Wildlife enthusiasts, meanwhile, can visit the zoo and animal hospital at Healesville Sanctuary, or head to the coast around Phillip Island to watch seals frolic in the waters and the penguins parade in perfect formation at dusk.
18. Yangshuo, China
While cities like Beijing and Shanghai might continue to get the lion’s share of visitors, China is rapidly developing secondary destinations that have a strong focus on natural beauty and outdoor activities, including Yangshuo in the southern region of Guangxi.
If you haven’t heard of this southern city, you’re not alone. The nearest airport is Guilin (KWL), which doesn’t currently get many international flights, but is served from domestic destinations by carriers including Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, Shenzhen Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, XiamenAir and Cathay Dragon from Hong Kong (HKG).
The area is known for spectacular scenery, including the vertiginous peaks that rise almost vertically along the Li River. Visitors can also take in bucolic farms, rice paddies and tea plantations while floating along on a bamboo raft. The countryside’s natural sights are staggering: There’s Moon Hill, a famous rock formation with a circular hole in the center, old-growth forests, including a banyan tree believed to be more than 1,400 years old, enormous complexes of limestone caves and pools and plenty of spots for rock climbing. Nearby, you’ll find ancient towns like Fuli, which is so well-known for its handicrafts that it’s often called the Town of Painted Fans. International hotel groups have spotted the potential and started flocking here too; Alila Hotels recently opened a gorgeous new luxury property in a historic sugar mill, while Six Senses will soon open a resort designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.
Featured image by aphotostory / Getty Images.
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