The British Virgin Islands
Winner: Caribbean Destination
Visitors to the British Virgin Islands, a cluster of 60 islands about 100 miles east of Puerto Rico, can fly into Terrance B. Lettsome Airport (EIS) on Beef Island. From there, island hopping is easy via ferry, sailboat, water taxi, or air charter. Large granite rock formations entice visitors at the Baths on Virgin Gorda, Caribbean specialties such as fresh conch lure gourmands to Sugar Mill Restaurant on Tortola, and across the isles, white sand beaches beckon.
New York City
Winner: North American City
The diversity, creativity, and energy of the Big Apple’s five boroughs lure travelers to discover something new on every trip, whether they want to experience the world premiere of an art installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, watch a Tony Award–winning Broadway show, or walk the halls of Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants entered the United States in search of a new life.
Winner: Asian City
As Japan’s capital gears up to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, the metropolis (and three-time category winner) is busier than ever. But travelers can still find tranquility in one of the city’s 277 parks and gardens, a hit of culture in its 240 museums, and a scrumptious bite to eat at one of its kaiseki restaurants. Thanks to development for the Games, hotel rooms and public transit are becoming more accessible to travelers with disabilities, too.
Winner: European City
Winner: Culture Capital
Paris is always a good idea. Of note this year: several new restaurants were awarded Michelin stars, including La Poule au Pot; the Hotel Lutetia was recently refurbished; and a retrospective of Leonardo da Vinci's work at the Louvre runs through February 24.
European City Finalists
Culture Capital Finalists
Winner: City in Africa and the Middle East
United’s new nonstop flights between Newark and Cape Town mark the first direct path from the United States to South Africa’s legislative capital, where travelers can catch views from towering Table Mountain, experience vibrant nightlife, dive with Cape fur seals (or great white sharks!), taste wine in Constantia (the oldest winemaking region in the Southern Hemisphere), and marvel at the collections⎯and architecture⎯of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa.
Winner: Destination in Oceania
Located on Australia’s southeast coast in the state of New South Wales, Sydney’s metro area is Oceania’s largest, with more than 5 million residents. Given its sunny weather year-round, there’s no bad time to explore all Sydney has to offer. Visitors sunbathe at laid-back Bondi Beach, take an Aboriginal Heritage Tour at the colorful Royal Botanic Garden, or nab tickets to the 2020 run of Don Giovanni at the Sydney Opera House.
Papua New Guinea
Winner: South American City
In Argentina’s capital, travelers can browse titles (and gawk at the frescoed dome) at a 100-year-old theater turned bookstore, El Ateneo Grand Splendid; wander the rows of tombs and mausoleums—including Eva Perón’s—at Recoleta Cemetery; and stroll through the colorful street museum Caminito, where they might catch a tango show, too. Trips to Buenos Aires are even more affordable for international visitors now, thanks to a new government plan that reimburses travelers for taxes on hotels and shopping.
Winner: Food & Wine Destination
At only 30 miles long and five miles wide, Napa Valley’s small size belies its outsize reputation as the region that put U.S. wines on the map for oenophiles worldwide. The valley, located about an hour north of San Francisco, is home to nearly 500 wineries, most of them family owned. Chefs take advantage of the region’s fertile land, too; established restaurants such as the French Laundry as well as up-and-comers like Charter Oak use ingredients they’ve grown themselves. Throughout the valley diners have a range of options, from casual fare at homey spots like Napa’s Oxbow Public Market to once-in-a-lifetime meals at lauded La Toque (seven-course truffle-tasting menu, anyone?).
Winner: Adventure Destination
Argentina and Chile share this region, where active travelers seeking communion with the great outdoors will find paradise: more than 20 national parks to trek, lava fields to mountain bike, dramatic glaciers to marvel at, and plenty of fauna to spot on a safari-style game drive. Travelers can search for condors flying overhead, track pumas, or see guanacos⎯cousins to llamas.
State of Hawaii
Winner: Wellness Destination
Visiting the islands of Hawaii is good for you, whether your definition of a healthy high might be hiking in Volcanoes National Park, watching the turtles at Laniakea Beach on Oahu, eating fresh lilikoʻi (passion fruit), relaxing during a traditional lomilomi massage at Lumeria Maui retreat center—or just spending time in the happiest U.S. state.
Winner: UNESCO World Heritage Site
On the western side of Peru’s Sacred Valley lie the well-preserved ruins of a 15th-century Inca citadel that again top AFAR readers’ list. Inscribed by UNESCO in 1983 as a “masterpiece of art, urbanism, architecture, and engineering of the Inca Civilization,” the site also offers sweeping vistas of terraced hillsides and the breathtaking Andes Mountains. Archaeologists are still learning about the site, though it has stood for more than 500 years.
Winner: Ski Destination
The Rocky Mountains of Colorado provide dry, fluffy powder for skiers and snowboarders, who can carve tracks across more than 22,000 acres of trails at 28 resorts. Due in large part to the high altitude, Arapahoe Basin resort stays open from mid-October to sometimes even July, one of North America’s longest ski seasons.
California Highway 1
Winner: U.S. Road Trip
AFAR readers took to social media to vote in a tournament-style road trip showdown. California Highway 1, this year’s winner, is a route that stretches more than 650 miles along the coast of the Golden State. Drivers can roll the windows down and smell the sea salt in Malibu, glimpse redwoods in Big Sur, drive across San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge, and slurp oysters in Marin County.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Great River Road National Scenic Byway
Kentucky Bourbon Trail
Million Dollar Highway
Overseas Highway: Miami to Key West
Tennessee Music Pathways
U.S. Route 50: Nevada’s Loneliest Road
Washington’s Olympic Peninsula
Winner: Trips That Do Good
Second-time category winner REI works with the nonprofit Conservation Volunteers International Program to lead trips that give back. On excursions that last from seven to 13 days, travelers help park rangers with trail maintenance in such places as Yosemite and Machu Picchu, assist researchers with sea turtle conservation in the Galápagos Islands or Costa Rica, and more.
Winner: Cultural Trips
Imagine experiencing the majesty of the Sistine Chapel, the awe-inspiring art of the Louvre, or the imposing glory of Egypt’s Valley of the Kings—all without the crowds. On certain trips with Tauck, travelers have exclusive access to those cultural landmarks. But travel is as much about the people we meet as the things we see, and Tauck’s itineraries reflect that. Guests talk baseball with Cuban Little Leaguers, learn about Moroccan women’s lives from a scholar in Fez, and hear stories of the Croatian War for Independence from a family who lived through it.
Sea Kayak Adventures
Winner: Rafting and Kayaking Trips
Creative kayaking itineraries on four continents allow Sea Kayak travelers to gain a new perspective. On a “Primates & Paddling” tour in Rwanda, guests trek to spot mountain gorillas and chimpanzees, and kayak in a hippo- and croc-free lake; the “Kayak, Walking, and Whisky” tour takes travelers on a private tour of a distillery in the Scottish Highlands. Other itineraries include kayaking between lodges, and plenty of family-friendly trips.
Winner: Culinary Trips
Country Walkers considers cuisine an essential element to cultural immersion. That’s why guests not only enjoy traditional dishes on every itinerary but also share meals in the homes of locals—a winemaker in Portugal’s Douro Valley, for instance. Cooking classes and demonstrations show guests how to re-create flavors and recipes when they get home.
Abercrombie & Kent
Winner: Over the Top Journeys
Want to ride a helicopter to the top of Mount Everest? Watch the sunrise at Machu Picchu without any crowds? Go on an eight-country safari via private jet? For nearly 60 years, Abercrombie & Kent has led travelers on some of the world’s most epic journeys by land, sea, and air, offering exclusive access to spectacular destinations.
Winner: Hiking and Walking Trips
Since 1978, Wilderness Travel has been showing active travelers the world on foot: About half of the company’s 200 journeys focus on hiking and trekking. On one of more than two dozen new trips, adventurers go to Kyrgyzstan to sleep in yurts, dine with a local family, and watch eagle hunters at work; on another, history buffs head to the Andes with an expert archaeologist to see the monumental pre-Inca ruins of Chavín de Huántar, where they get exclusive access to the ancient site’s subterranean water channels.
National Geographic Expeditions
Winner: Photography Expeditons
Travelers learn the ins and outs of light, aperture, and frame from National Geographic photographers on 52 different photography-focused trips. Five UNESCO World Heritage sites serve as settings for shoots on a train tour through India, and the colors and costumes of Kagura dancers make for captivating subjects in Hiroshima, Japan. Certified photo instructors come aboard all Nat Geo cruises, too.
Natural Habitat Adventures
Winner: Wildlife Encounters
Natural Habitat Adventures, the world’s first carbon-neutral travel company, has focused solely on the outdoors for 35 years and has been a World Wildlife Fund travel partner since 2003. Travelers can safari through the grasslands of Botswana to spot lions and hyenas; snorkel with whale sharks in Mexico; traverse the tundra to watch polar bears in Manitoba; look for tigers in India’s Ranthambore National Park; see jaguars in Brazil’s Pantanal⎯and much more.
VBT Bicycling Vacations
Winner: Bicycling Tours
There are few better ways to get to know a place than by cycling its countryside. With both guided and self-guided trip options from VBT, beginner and experienced cyclists alike wend through terraced vineyards in Germany, enjoy Atlantic coastline views near Cape Town, pedal toward Arthur’s Pass in New Zealand, or see the rice paddies of Vietnam from their bike saddles.