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Where to Go in 2013: Travel Agents’ Edition

Still wondering where to go in 2013? We were too, until we put our heads together and produced our own list, then hit up our worldly AFAR ambassadors and contributing writers for their ideal destinations. Now we’ve turned to the experts who can really put together a dream trip. The agents who comprise our Travel Advisory Council have their ears to the ground about what’s new, interesting, and under-the-radar. Consider this a checklist, and report back with your trip Highlights on AFAR.com. All of these agents can be contacted via afar.com/agents, or click their names to email directly.

Zimbabwe is the smart traveler’s safari destination. The locals are sweet and dear, and they welcome the support that travelers bring. The game viewing rivals Botswana and the cost is far better. Wilderness Safaris, renowned for the quality of their properties and experiences, have directors who are Zimbabwean and have committed to the country. Singita, with well-known BEST properties in South Africa and Tanzania, are the managers at Pamushana, in southern Zimbabwe, and the owner runs a foundation that greatly benefits the locals. Betty Jo Currie, Currie & Co. Travels Unlimited

Puglia, Italy
Puglia is the heel of the Italian “boot”—and the location of Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel’s recent wedding. There are many hotels to choose from—from simple agriturismos to fabulous hotels like Justin’s Borgo Egnazia or nearby Torre Maizza and Torre Coccaro. There are also places like the hyper-chic La Sommità in Ostuni or the simple elegance of Masseria Montelauro. The area offers so much diversity in a small region. You have the amazing Baroque architecture of Lecce, the astounding trulli/conical sturctures that form the UNESCO protected Alberobello, the white-washed cities of Ostuni, the seaside port towns of Otranto and Monopoli . . . and of course the Adriatic beaches! And the FRESHEST of seafood. —Cari Gray, Gray & Co.

Cartagena, Colombia
Nonstop service from New York has made this a great new destination for people who want to travel to a warm destination that offers culture, night life, great dining and fantastic hotel options. The Santa Clara hotel, originally a convent, has been converted to a wonderful five-star property. Josette Carrizzo, Trips Away Travel

Myanmar (Burma)
The dazzling Shwedagon Pagoda, in Yangon, and the some 5,000 temples of Bagan are thousands of years old, comparable only to the grandeur of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The Ayeyarwady River takes visitors through the spiritual heart of the country, to see monuments like the Golden Palace Monastery and the Mahamuni pagoda—a Buddhist temple and pilgrimage site in the southwest of the country. Get here now before the crowds do. John Clifford, International Travel Management

Nicaragua certainly deserves to be noted as an up-and-coming destination for 2013, especially thanks to entrepreneur Carlos Pellas and his new luxury Mukul Resort and Spa. Nicaragua offers a diversity of virtually untapped adventure, the splendor of hiking volcanos, canopy tours and zip-lines, biking, scuba, and the best surfing in Central America. Plus, easy access from the United States. Enjoy Lake Nicaragua, with numerous fresh-water islands and views of Mombacho Volcano, howler monkeys, and an abundance of  tropical birds. Visit the colorful colonial city of Granada, dating back to 1524, with immaculate, colorful historical buildings. Susan Sparks, Points of Interest Travel/Brownell Travel

New Zealand
In past years, I’d have people book a trip to Australia and maybe they’d do a few days at a place like Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand. Now, I have people booking Kauri and maybe they’ll add a few days for other things. William Kiburz, Coronet Travel Ltd.

A culturally intriguing Caribbean island that has been isolated from much of the world for centuries awaits the curious traveler. Still stuck in the 1950’s, Cuba has a long way to go before it reaches the status of a stable tourist destination. Where hotel, dining, and service standards fall short, the people, music and art fulfill.  With extremely friendly and welcoming locals, Old Havana is the vibrant and lively neighborhood that draws visitors in. An important stop: Havana’s Club Rum Museum, where you will learn everything about Cuban rum and taste the many varieties. Beyond the streets of Old Havana, we recommend visiting Trinidad, Santa Clara, Pinar del Rio, Las Terrazas; and for the beach: Varradero, for bone-fishing and pristine, untouched waters. Lauren Maggard, Jet Set World Travel

Lake Tahoe
Tahoe has always been a great vacation spot for the active crowd or the family vacationer but has recently upped its game with the introduction of a few new (and older but more recently recognized) properties—I’m thinking of places like the Ritz-Carlton in the Village at Northstar and the Cedar House Sports Hotel in Truckee. There’s also a growing culinary scene in the North Lake area with Stella (in the Cedar House), with its fresh, organic, and innovative food. People come all over for their bread. Trokay Café is another masterpiece. And there’s everything that Tahoe has to offer, winter or summer. There is no getting bored any time of year. Michelle Rosen, Protravel International

Travel to Antarctica on the Seabourn Quest—it’s been refitted with a new hull to navigate the waters—with Abercrombie & Kent organizing the expeditions, lecturers, and guides. They’re doing four sailings, beginning late November through January. Exploration by day, luxury by night: Walk amongst penguins, zipline in Puerto Montt, fish in Chile, in addition to the wonders of Drake Passage, South Georgia Island and Chilean Fjords. Anne Halsey-Smith, Gayle Gillies Travel/Worldview Travel

So while Brazil is neither a new or emerging destination it is very much on the radar for 2013, as the World Cup is casting the spotlight on the entire region. And not just on Rio de Janeiro and hotspot Sao Paolo, but on some of the periphery destinations around the that side of the continent such as Punta del Este in Uruguay, Bahia, and of course Iguazú. Once travelers go to the trouble of getting the Brazilian visa, we are finding they want to immerse themselves in the diverse destinations outside of the cities that offer authentic culture, adventure, and some of the newly opened hotels that appeal to the jetset crowd. We know the World Cup will inspire travelers to be looking for late 2013 destinations, when Brazil is in its peak season. Shelby Donley, Camelback Odyssey Travel

Egypt is once again a tempting destination, as many of the ancient archaeological sites that were once closed are now being opened to encourage visitors. A wealth of new discoveries are revealing more secrets of the holy city of Abydos, burial place of the earliest kings of Egypt. And the Suez National Museum was inaugurated in October, displaying archaeological artifacts and illustrations revealing ancient and present-day Suez. In Cairo, the Sheraton Hotel Towers & Casino reopens this year after an extensive renovation. Malaka Hilton, Admiral Travel International and AuthentEscapes

Big Sky Country, Montana
Big Sky Country is the ultimate domestic family destination for the true outdoors.  The Ranch at Rock Creek, a Relais & Chateaux property, has brought on a new superstar GM team, Maja & Thomas Kilgore.  The Montana winter is when the countryside is at its best…snow, sunshine and the famous blue skies of this area invite you to many fun activities on the ranch, such as cross country skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, snowshoe hikes and amazing winter horseback rides—and, a cozy place is reserved in front of their fireplace to warm up with a nice cup of cider.   Jason Miller, The Accomplished Traveler 

You might also like:
Where to Go in 2013: Editors’ Edition
Where to Go in 2013: Ambassadors’ Edition
Where to Go in 2013: Contributing Writers’ Edition
Photo of Iguazu Falls: Matthew Keesecker