For AFAR's third annual Travelers’ Choice destinations awards, our readers cast more than 100,000 votes to recognize their top places to go in 2019. Get ready to hit the road—the world awaits.
To wander through Dubrovnik is to experience Croatia’s cultural history. See it in the UNESCO-listed Old City sector, where centuries-old baroque churches, Gothic palaces, and medieval walls stand. Hear it in the notes of traditional a capella klapa singing during the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, which marks 70 years in 2019. And feel it in the paintings by Croatian artists who grapple with the region’s recent past and present at the Museum of Modern Art and the seasonal gallery, War Photo Limited.
Long before the publication of Eat, Pray, Love, Bali was renowned as a spot for yogis and spa travelers. With plenty of jungle spas and oceanside resorts, visitors can find idyllic settings to experience sound therapy, practice asanas, or eat Ayurvedic meals. But interested wellness seekers can also undergo spiritual Balinese healing, which could include sessions with a traditional healer who may use massage, oils, spices, or other methods to treat patients’ energy.
A southern part of California Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway got the highest number of votes in any category this year. Running more than 100 miles between Dana Point and Oxnard, it showcases the best of the Golden State: Pacific waves crashing against dramatic bluffs in Laguna Beach, neon-lit rides on the Santa Monica Pier, boutique shopping in Malibu, and sandy stretches of shoreline along the way, all ideal for spending a day by the surf.
The 15th-century Incan citadel, with its temples, dwellings, agricultural terraces, and Sacred Valley views, was placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1983. Since its opening to the public, millions of visitors have made the journey to Peru in order to see Machu Picchu, which rises nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, set between the eastern Andes and the Amazon basin. It remains one of the best-preserved architectural ruins built by an ancient civilization.
Palm trees sway, the sultry sounds of guitar and timbales pour forth from Havana salsa clubs, and colorful architecture fills the urban cityscape. Despite recent policy changes, U.S. passport holders can still travel to the Caribbean nation legally under the “support for the Cuban people” visa category (just be sure to follow the federal guidelines). Want help planning your trip? Contact one of AFAR’s Travel Advisory Council members.
The diverse terroir of southwestern France produces exceptional merlots and cabernets. As you sip your way through Bordeaux’s wine routes, you can also admire its landscape of rivers, rolling green hills, and, of course, vineyards. True oenophiles should check out the three-year-old Cité du Vin, an interactive museum with 20 exhibits about wine’s historic uses, today’s pioneers in winemaking, how wine engages all five senses, and more. The visit culminates with a 360-degree view of Bordeaux on the eighth floor.
“Southern charm” only scratches the surface when describing Charleston. Founded more than 300 years ago, the city serves as a living museum of the many complex layers of American history. Charleston is famous for its beautifully preserved architecture (South Carolina’s oldest church dates to 1706) and friendly locals. The mouth-watering food helps, too, be it a perfect buttermilk biscuit with blackberry jam at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit or fig with prosciutto and Jocassee Tomme cheese at FIG.
The Aloha State’s beach offerings are diverse, and Maui’s are no exception: In Waianapanapa State Park, travelers can hike the Ke Ala Loa O Maui, a volcanic coastal trail that will take them beyond black sand beaches, or, on the other side of the island, watch the sun set over the waves while nibbling hula pie from Kimo’s. During a new experience offered by Four Seasons in Wailea, guests can even learn about the traditional Hawaiian cowboys who taught their horses to swim.
Over the past few years, the capital of Hungary has lured more travelers than ever before with its Gothic spirals, neoclassical domes, and elegant thermal baths (some have been in use for more than 400 years). But the historic metropolis has a modern energy. Hotels are opening left and right, its theater and nightlife scenes are thriving, and an eager class of chefs is making its mark: Onyx, a glamorous restaurant in the heart of the city, has earned the country its first two star Michelin rating.
The triad of ski resorts that boast Alberta’s best skiing—Lake Louise, Norquay, and Sunshine Village—are all located within Banff National Park, where the Canadian Rockies tower. Getting to the slopes at all three resorts is easy with the SkiBig3 Tri-Area Lift Ticket. Beginner and expert skiers alike can enjoy nearly 8,000 acres on a mix of runs. If you’ve ever wanted to try heli-skiing, you can do it there, too. Then, spend après-ski hours in the Banff Upper Hot Springs, open since the 19th century.
This small country in Central America is the perfect place to learn about nature. Nearly 6 percent of the planet’s biodiversity is there. Spot sloths on the Caribbean coast, resplendent quetzals in the cloud forests, and howler monkeys swinging from the trees. More active adventures run the gamut, too: zoom through the rain forest canopies on zip lines (many of which are suitable for kids), and don’t forget surf lessons! The northern Pacific Coast is best for beginners; the Caribbean side gets some of the country’s biggest waves.
Twice in a row, AFAR travelers have chosen this South Pacific archipelago as their favorite spot to play in the waves. Whether you want to surf, snorkel, standup paddleboard, sail, or fish, the small sovereign nation surrounding the Koro Sea has it all. Only a third of the more than 300 tropical islands are inhabited, but there are plenty of luxurious retreats to enjoy. Try a scuba diving lesson at Six Senses Fiji, which opened last spring, or help replant mangroves at Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort Fiji.
For AFAR travelers, the Big Easy was an easy choice. Louisiana’s coastal city has been influenced by cuisines such as Spanish, French, Cajun, and Creole, lending international flair to the local food scene. Savor bites of oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s, the 178-year-old fine dining establishment that invented the dish, or savor modern twists on NOLA staples such as blue crab beignets at La Petite Grocery or collard green melt sandwich at Turkey and the Wolf.
With a land mass of nearly 3 million square miles, Australia offers room for any kind of adventure. Dive among the Great Barrier Reef’s colorful flora and fauna (lucky swimmers might spot a whale shark, the world’s biggest fish), or hike through forests of towering karri eucalyptus trees in the province of Western Australia. Adrenaline junkies can bungee jump above Cairns’s rain forest and raft through the rapids of the Mitta Mitta River.
The capital of Japan and the world’s most populous city maintains its reign as AFAR travelers’ favorite urban destination in Asia. Home to more than 38 million people, Tokyo is a hub for technological innovation, architecture and design, fashion, and food. What other city can lay claim to spearheading street style, transforming digital communication (hello, emoji!), and having the most Michelin-starred restaurants anywhere on Earth? If you go this year, you can catch the city ramping up to host the Summer Olympics in 2020.