Top 10 destinations for 2013
For the fifth year, we have captured what's happening on the travel scene. As usual, we focused on destinations we think will be hot - or at least should be. All this is of course based on dubious rumours, crazy speculations and a bit of travel experience.
This is Globe Spots' Top 10 for 2013. Off you go, now.
Portugal oozes 'old European charm'. Medieval towns and historical quarters are full of squares, churches and monasteries. Narrow lanes are flanked by old skew houses with crooked balconies draped in drying laundry. Here, neighbours still share the latest gossip or discuss politics from their windows. Pastry shops and taverns are found in such abundance it makes you wonder whether the Portuguese eat at home at all. The pace is soothingly slow and any day seems to be a good day for a drink. Chances are that after a few days in Portugal, you’ll find yourself sitting in a small square with a glass of tawny port in your hand, no matter whether you previously liked the stuff or not. It's just one of those things Portugal does to you.
Mozambique is a great spot for a change of scenery if you're experiencing safari fatigue from your excursions in the neighbouring countries. With a 2,500 km coastline, you'll probably be able to find a few fine beaches and have them almost all to yourself. Great islands, some with a grim slave trade history, are also a sight not to be missed. But however idyllic beaches and islands might seem, Mozambique is not a country that can be explored without effort and can sometimes get on the rough side. Luckily, the long back-breaking journeys will be made easier by the easygoing and good-humoured Mozambicans, who are yet another good reason to visit this country.
Kyrgyzstan has long led the accessibility race in Central Asia. It recently assured its position ahead of the pack by abolishing visa requirements for some 44 ‘Western’ countries. This increased ease of travel opened up one of the most culturally intact countries in the region. A fascinating semi-nomadic culture welcomes travellers to some of the most spectacular hiking sceneries on Earth. A surprisingly professional tourism infrastructure facilitates visits to remote areas where time seems to have been forgotten. All this, infused with a historian’s dream of a Soviet time capsule, makes Kyrgyzstan a place with more to offer than you might expect. But one thing's for sure, with the secret getting out, best visit the country now before it changes.
Panama is renowned for its canal, or for the fact that it is the last piece of land linking Central to South America. But it would be a mistake to just breeze through it on the way to somewhere else. The enlightened ones who decide to stop and explore this small country will be rewarded with paradisiacal islands and beaches, lush rainforests, great outdoor activities, indigenous tribes, and a surprisingly modern capital with pockets of colonial charm. And even the infamous Darién Gap is slowly shifting from a reputation of drug-lords and kidnappings to one of jungle adventure opportunities, though it might take a little while before it gets mainstream.
Despite its rather well developed tourism infrastructure, Armenia still flies under the radar of most travellers. Boasting having been the first to embrace Christianity, the country provides ample proof of that assertion, and following the guidebooks' suggestions will most likely leave anyone churched (or monasteried) out. Fortunately, those willing to dig a little deeper will discover a truly amazing country with a beautiful landscape, but will also encounter genuinely nice people always ready to offer them a shot of aragh (introduced by never-ending toasts), or welcome them at their khorovats picnic... or both. And with visa requirements being lifted for EU citizens, starting in January, there's even less reason to pass on this one.
Two types of reaction are to be expected when you mention you're going to Rwanda: "Rwanda? Isn't it a bit dangerous?" and "Oh, to see the mountain gorillas?". But, trust us, there's more to Rwanda than gorillas and genocide. Stunning ubiquitous mountains, a few national parks, excellent lake beaches, great culture, a dynamic capital: the country has a lot to offer its visitors and is working really hard to convince them to forget about its dreadful past and come en masse. And with its incredibly well-paved roads, a bus system that would put some European countries to shame, clean and safe streets, and friendly helpful people, Rwanda makes a perfectly smooth introduction to Africa.
It's not the first time it is predicted that the Fidel Castro era is coming to an end. But 2013 could easily be the last year for travellers to experience Cuba as the time pocket it has been for decades. Though parts of Havana are undergoing a makeover to enchant the growing number of tourists, the authenticity isn't lost. Ancient Cadillacs are still cruising the streets, salsa beats are still pumping out of decaying colonial houses, and cheap rum still flows freely. Underdeveloped beaches are still plentiful and the countryside is still scattered with farms run like it was the ‘50s, with animal labour and all. Nobody knows what will happen to Cuba when Fidel won’t be around anymore. Maybe nothing will change, maybe everything will. So you’d better go before it's too late.
Hot on the heels of the successfully co-hosted Euro2012, Ukraine has been brought to the forefront of the tourism world. The days of visas and police bribery are a thing of the past. Today's Ukraine provides a surreal combination of rock-till-you-drop coastal party towns to Crimean holiday resorts to cosmopolitan capitals to villages you'd swear you were still in the USSR. Unquestionably, Ukraine offers a surprisingly diverse tourism package. And even with more English to guide you around and an ever improving infrastructure, there are still numerous parts of the country that remain unexplored. Ukraine is a place that can be as easy or as hard as you need.
Malawi is often overlooked in favour of its neighbours, but this gem of an African country has more than enough to keep travellers enthralled.Having earned their country the nickname of the Warm Heart of Africa, the seemingly always smiling Malawians are without a doubt one of Malawi’s main attractions. Another is Lake Malawi, which provides ample beaches for sunbathing, islands for kayaking, fish for snorkelling and diving and even an annual music festival. Add parks boasting the Big Five, the chance to walk and cycle with zebras and antelopes, mountains providing days upon days of spectacular hiking, an ancient steamboat and sunset cruises along the hippo-filled Shire River to the mix and you’ve got yourself a pretty incredible destination. Best of all? You’ll feel as though you have most of it to yourself!
Canada's vastness is just one of those clichés that persist... But, truth be told, it is indeed a country you cannot fully explore in just one short trip. You’ll need to pick a region and stick to it if you don't want to spend all of your time in transport. The good thing is, there is plenty varied regions to choose from, and what Canada lacks in history and medieval castles, it more than makes up for in nature and opportunities for trekking, skiing, canoeing, fishing, or any outdoor activity you could think of. Add to that great urban and cultural life in one of its three metropolises (Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal), steadily gaining cool creds in the international opinion, and you’ll get a country that will keep you coming back for more.