Tis the season to look ahead to another year of travel, and here at AFAR, we aren’t above fantasizing about where to spend our 2016 vacation days. But our Where to Go package is not just a list of top destinations for travelers to cross off their bucket list. Instead, these places are on our radar as they fit a certain criteria: better tourism infrastructure—a new hotel, a new direct flight, or a new cruise or train route—that makes it easier to visit; an event worth traveling for; strong value; or emerging cultural scenes.
At AFAR, we believe the number of stamps in your passport does not determine your status as a traveler. What matters is the depth of experiences you have while traveling the world—and what they do to transform you as a global citizen. We’re proud of this year’s list and hope that all travelers will strive to have deeper, richer, and more fulfilling experiences that continue to evolve as the world changes around us.
While we don’t subscribe to the idea of a bucket list, there are destinations that are on our hearts and minds right now. Places like Nepal, which continues to recover from last year’s earthquake, thanks in part to tourism dollars. Or Tasmania, which is experiencing a luxury travel boom. Or the American Southwest, where travelers can celebrate the National Parks centennial with a road trip through the region’s most unique parks.
Here are the places we can’t wait to explore in the new year.
1) American Southwest: There’s no better place to celebrate the National Parks centennial than in the American southwest. Home to Arches, Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon, and Capitol Reef National Parks—most of which will roll out special programming to celebrate the big anniversary—the region is made for an early spring road trip that weaves in stops at such growing cities as Flagstaff.
2) Nepal: Tourism is more important than ever for the country as it recovers from the devastating earthquake in April that claimed 9,000 lives and affected millions of others. Travel dipped by 50 percent following the quake. Intrepid Travel, one of the country’s largest tour operators, recently collaborated with the Nepalese government and a team of experts to assess the damage. The conclusion: This landscape of snowy Himalayan peaks and jungle-covered plains is secure and ready for visitors to return. And your dollars will likely directly fund relief efforts.
3) Tasmania: Tasmania is heating up amidst an emerging tourism infrastructure and top hoteliers from around the world are taking note. The area will see new cruise lines and hiking trails in 2016, such as the new Three Capes Track, a 28 mile hike that takes four days to hike and a new Tasmania cruise from Coral Expeditions.
4) Cuba: With the recent ease in American travel restrictions to Cuba, 2016 marks the perfect time to visit the island—especially as tourism is likely to greatly change the country in the years ahead. A new weekend tour from Insight Cuba will also roll out in January, making it even easier for Americans to get a taste of the island without taking too many vacation days.
5) Portugal: Portugal is heating up as a cultural hub. Foodies are flocking to the capital city of Lisbon, which is radiating with exciting new culinary experiences. In addition, the city is getting a swanky new port hub to support the building river cruise traffic. Porto has quickly emerged as a top art scene and the central coast 200-mile stretch between the two cities is becoming loved by beachcombers. Locals and newcomers alike are breathing new life into Portugal’s smaller villages. With these experiences, Portugal truly has something for everyone.
6) Granada, Nicaragua: Granada is quickly becoming the Portland of Nicaragua, with coffee tourism on the rise and new cafes popping up throughout the area. In addition, travelers can take advantage of easy outdoorsy half-day trips, like Las Islets in Lake Nicaragua or the Mombacho Volcano.
7) Mongolia: Until recently, Mongolia really required “roughing it.” There was no luxury hotel in the fascinating East-meets-West capital of Ulaanbaatar, let alone in the wild big-sky country beyond. Now, however, a Shangri-La opened in the capital, the country’s wilderness lodges have upped their comforts, and expert outfitters like Nomadic Expeditions arrange trips that don’t sacrifice luxury for authenticity.
8) East Africa: The Safari landscape is heating up in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. In Tanzania, a new fleet of tented safari camps means you can get closer to nature than ever before—without sacrificing luxury. And with a new airport, a stable political climate, and new resorts, Zimbabwe has emerged as a safari destination to be reckoned with.
9) Cabo: As it rebuilds following last year’s Hurricane Odile, Cabo is shedding its party reputation and reinventing itself as a luxury destination. In the last year, the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula has seen an abundance of development, including the arrival of many top name resorts and luxurious new offerings, like Esperanza, One & Only Palmilla, or Las Ventanas. The food is also just as good, thanks to celebrity chef migrations, including Enrique Olvera at Manta.
10) Ireland: Rounding out the list, Ireland is a top destination to visit in 2016 as the country has recently launched a number of travel services that allow its diversity of scenery and terrain to be seen by land, sea and air. The first luxury rail, the Belmond Grand Hibernian, launched in the fall of this year and Linblad will roll out an Ireland boat tour in the months ahead. In addition, award-winning travel company, Black Tomato enables travelers to fly West of Ireland over the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare.
Next>> Take our Where Should You Go in 2016? quiz