As professional travelers, we’ll always return to places we love, but we’re also constantly seeking out what’s new and what’s next—for both our own adventures and our clients’ trips.
At the Owners’ Meeting of the Signature Travel Network last month in Austin, Texas, the consortium announced its list of where to travel in 2020. The list was created by Ignacio Maza, Signature’s executive vice president and a member of AFAR’s Travel Advisory Council, and Jean Newman Glock, Signature’s managing director for communications and public affairs. The 11 destinations are a mix of places with specific new reasons to go—air routes, lodgings, things to do; underappreciated spots that are making comebacks from bad news or have never gotten the attention they deserve; and those one-of-a-kind places perfect for sophisticated travelers.
With some classic destinations getting more crowded than ever, it’s essential to be on the lookout for emerging places and new frontiers. Check out Signature’s list and see what inspires you. Then let me know where you think travelers should head next!
For royal yachts, misty highlands, whales and falcons, castle stays
Ignacio’s take: Start in Edinburgh, on everyone’s list for good reason. Enjoy classic Scottish experiences like a private dinner on Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite yacht, the Royal Yacht Britannia in Leith, a few miles away. Head north to the Highlands and stay at Gleneagles for golf, falconry, or hiking in glacial valleys. Balmoral, where Queen Elizabeth II spends her summers, has recently opened to visitors for a few months each year. Be among the first to follow the new Hebridean Whale Trail with 33 sites for prime whale and dolphin watching along the western coast. Train enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the Jacobite steam train, which passes through small Scottish villages and along deep lochs, or the Belmond Royal Scotsman, an overnight luxury train.
For magnificent desert scenery, Africa’s tallest sand dunes, very different safaris
Ignacio’s take: Namibia is the first African country to protect the environment in its constitution. It has a “last frontier” feel and offers otherworldly landscapes, desert-adapted wildlife, outstanding stargazing, superb five-star lodges, giant sand formations, and indigenous cultures—and that’s just to start. Namibia is larger than Texas and has many unique experiences for sophisticated travelers: Soar over the Skeleton Coast in a helicopter, catch the sunrise at the 1,000-foot-high Sossusvlei Dunes, meet the nomadic Himba people in Damaraland, and spot big cats at Etosha National Park. Namibia has many memorable places to stay, including Shipwreck Lodge, Omaanda, Little Kulala, and the &Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, whose October 16 reopening is highly anticipated.
For new luxury and intimate resorts, plus history, culture, and outdoor pursuits
Ignacio’s take: Panama is so much more than the canal. It’s a celebration year for Panama City: The “path between the oceans” is celebrating its 500th anniversary now. Experience a melting pot of several indigenous and international cultures. Escape civilization in a secluded private island retreat like Isla Palenque, an overwater bungalow in the Caribbean’s Bocas del Toro, or an eco-resort in the rain forest. It’s a perfect place for adventure seekers: You can hike, raft, snorkel, sail, golf, swim, and zipline to your heart’s content. It is said that more species of wildlife are represented there than in Costa Rica. On the culinary side, find the finest ceviche this side of Lima and coffee to make you forget what Starbucks is. Plus, there is nonstop air service from many North American gateways.
For a small, natural wonderland, endless adventure options, and excellent food and wine
Ignacio’s take: Visit Europe’s green, clean, friendly, affordable, and easily accessible country before the rest of the world catches on. Slovenia is a top outdoor destination: Hike the Julian Alps, cycle countryside trails, raft in fast rivers like the Soča, or explore canyoning, horseback riding, and more. Visit Lake Bled, perhaps Europe’s most striking alpine lake, and explore dramatic caves like Postojna and Škocjan. Wander around Ljubljana, Slovenia’s charming and compact capital. It is filled with cultural treasures and the unique architecture of native son Jože Plečnik. Slovenia’s up-and-coming cuisine is getting noticed for inventive farm-to-table menus, the freshest ingredients, excellent local wines, and gibanica, the country’s famously decadent dessert [made with cottage cheese and eggs].
For an off-the-beaten-path gem with pristine rain forests, waterfalls, and unique wildlife
Ignacio’s take: Explore South America’s only English-speaking country, a diverse mix of Amerindian, African, South Asian, and British cultures. Over 80 percent of Guyana is covered with rain forests, and the country offers one of the last unspoiled stretches of tropical jungle in the world. It is home to various lesser-seen wildlife, including river otter, anteater, and black caiman. You can spot hundreds of species of birds and wildlife found nowhere else in the world. Visit indigenous villages, walk suspended jungle bridges in the Iwokrama Canopy, stay in remote eco-lodges, and don’t miss Kaieteur Falls, the world’s highest single drop waterfall, 741 feet high and guaranteed to leave you breathless.
For living history, ancient cities, and the Dead Sea
Ignacio’s take: Even if you have already seen Petra, it is time to return to Jordan. For adventurers, the newly inaugurated Jordan Trail crosses the entire country, or you can go glamping in Jordan’s desolate and exotic Wadi Rum, made famous by Lawrence of Arabia. Visit Jerash, one of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the world. Explore Amman’s burgeoning restaurant and shopping scene. Soak in the Dead Sea, sleep in a Bedouin camp, and see Jerusalem from Mount Nebo, just like Moses did, at the newly reopened church.
Hokkaido Island, Japan
For Japan’s best-kept secret, world-class hikes, hot springs, and Sapporo’s Snow Festival
Ignacio’s take: After visiting ever-popular Tokyo, head for Hokkaido, known for unspoiled nature, stunning landscapes, and the country’s largest national park, Daisetsu-Zan. Although Hokkaido is Japan’s second-largest island, it holds only 5 percent of the country’s population. Hike active volcanoes, kayak across pristine lakes, and soak in some of Japan’s best hot springs. Ride a cable car to Mount Hakodate for impressive panoramic views. In spring and summer, marvel at the endless flower fields of Furano and Biei. Visit coastal villages that serve the country’s freshest seafood. In winter, enjoy top-quality skiing and snowboarding at Niseko or Sahoro. Don’t miss Sapporo’s Snow Festival with its awe-inspiring ice sculptures.
For the heart and soul of Brazilian music and culture, delicious Bahian cuisine, and new hotels
Ignacio’s take: Africa meets South America in Salvador de Bahia. Nowhere else in the Americas is the heritage of former African slaves so alive and present. Salvador is the cradle of Brazilian music, the home of samba and many talented singers like Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and João Gilberto. Wander through the Pelourinho district’s 500 years of history, spend a day at one of many great beaches, and enjoy its unique cuisine. Stay at the new Fera Palace Hotel or at Fasano Salvador for superb service and panoramic views from its rooftop pool. As of June 2019, visas are no longer required for U.S. citizens.
For shopping, culture, and dining that is more affordable than ever
Ignacio’s take: Visit Istanbul now before the crowds rediscover the city. It is literally where Asia meets Europe, and it’s full of endless treasures. Stay in a former Ottoman Palace, a modern design-forward retreat, or an intimate boutique hotel. Learn the secrets of Turkish cuisine during a private cooking class. Marvel at the extraordinary tilework at Rustem Pasha Mosque. Instead of the crowded Grand Bazaar, visit the Spice Market for a culinary extravaganza, including well-known aphrodisiacs. Go behind the scenes at the Turkish Modern Museum with a curator. Don’t miss Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque, but you will be all alone when you wander through the enchanting Dolmabahçe Palace on a private visit.
Kaikoura, New Zealand
For a marine wildlife hub, plus great rail, dining, and lodge experiences
Ignacio’s take: The Kiwi capital of sea adventures suffered a great earthquake in November 2016, but it is now back in business. Experience marine life in all its glory by spotting whales and albatrosses or swimming with seals and dolphins. Sign up for great surfing and kayaking all along the coast. Taste the freshest crayfish or fish and chips at Nins Bin or Coopers Catch. Stay in a luxury tree house 30 feet from the ground at Hapuku Lodge, with every creature comfort, exceptional dining, and beautiful mountain views. And don’t miss riding the Coastal Pacific Train to Picton, one of New Zealand’s top rail journeys.
For a vibrant city undergoing a renaissance with great culture, dining, and music
Ignacio’s take: America’s Motor City is making a comeback, after the ravages of the great recession and years of neglect. Detroit means music and is the home of Motown hits, techno, and first-rate jazz. See the famous Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute for the Arts. Dine at hot spots like She Wolf, San Morello, and Selden Standard. Walk the downtown district and admire architectural landmarks, or stroll the revitalized riverfront. Spend a morning or afternoon in Belle Isle, bigger than NYC’s Central Park. Stay at Shinola Hotel and feel the new spirit of Detroit.