A new year means new opportunities to stick plenty more pins in your map. Here’s our pick of hot new destinations and tours for 2012. Jump in there quick, before the crowds cotton on.
Slovenia is a booming destination for travellers seeking a taste of the European outdoors, and its range of au naturale activities and breathtaking scenery is sure to see the tourist numbers swell further in 2012.
The Julian Alps are one of the country’s biggest drawcards, being one of Europe’s most picturesque mountain ranges. It’s no surprise that, in light of its stunning natural attractions, Slovenia is a European leader in sustainable green tourism.
The country is also set to find itself firmly on the travel map thanks to its second city, Maribor, being named European Capital of Culture for 2012. Keep an eye on TNT for tales of our travels in the Julian Alps, and see next week’s issue for our guide to a weekend in the capital. (thinkslovenia.com)
The Northern Lights
The aurora borealis is the most spectacular luminescent phenomena that appears in the night sky above Scandinavia, and 2012 is tipped to produce the most jaw-dropping light show in 50 years.
Don’t fancy breaking the bank with a notoriously expensive trip chasing the lights? Look out for our feature on how to do the Northern Lights on a budget later this month.
Deeper into Iceland
Reykjavik is not Iceland’s only port of call. Turn your compass inland to reveal a glacier-carved world like no other; wonder at oceanic-sized floating icebergs – a regular Icelandic phenomena – and spectacular waterfalls.
A new 11-day ‘Wild of Iceland’ tour from Imaginative Traveller will take you there, though if you fancy going independently, the soon-to-open Akureyi Backpackers Hostel in the country’s northern capital is the perfect launch-pad for exploring both city and its volcanic surrounds.
Two new walking tours are also set to open the south coast and spectacular west to endurance-ready travellers, energetic exploits rewarded by the 100km-long, Snæfellsnes Peninsula, replete with breathtaking black-sand beaches and lava fields. (11 days from £1810pp, imaginative-traveller.co.uk; walking tours from £899pp, InnTravel.co.uk; akureyibackpackers.com)
Ditch Dubrovnik and go island hopping along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, famous not only for its spotted dogs, but also ancient towns, dramatic gorges and too-clear-to-be-true waters. Turn to page 42 for more on flitting between Bol and Brac, and how you can discover the pirate town of Omis after a hard day’s rafting over rapids.
But these aren’t the only adventures to unearth in Croatian Dalmatia: the region is ridiculously well suited to jump-starting your heart rate. You can climb karsts, take on the crystal-blue Adriatic, claim your own secret coves, or disappear into the Dinaric mountains. (dalmatia.info)
Algarve Walking Trail
Forget sunning yourself on the beach all day long: take on the Algarve’s long-distance footpath to earn that tan. Away from Portugal’s tourist-thick coast, you can mount a four-day hike through the region’s rugged countryside, stopping to rest and refuel at locally run guesthouses.
Inland, the scenery is greener, and the raw nature of it makes a welcome break from manicured beaches. Stop to admire the quiet Mediterranean villages, their cobbles and donkeys a world away from the uniform, Brit-packed whitewash villas.
Better still, the trail ends at a secret cove perfect for surfing. TNT intends to thoroughly enjoy this pocket of peace when we take on the trail later this year – keep your eyes peeled, and your mouths shut. (visitalgarve.pt)
Burma’s back on the travel map in 2012. Now you can visit this time-warped country with a clear conscience, due to the release of Aung San Suu Kyi – a Burmese opposition politician – from house arrest and the National League for Democracy’s decision to end its recommended tourist boycott.
In Burma, you can get a taste of the type of adventure travel that in 2012 you normally only get to read about in books. Think rickety buses, creaking bridges, uneven potholed roads, curious locals and – hopefully – not a cheese omelette in sight. Combine visits to picturesque pagodas, monasteries and hill stations with a cruise on the Irrawaddy River, made famous in Rudyard Kipling’s poem, The Road To Mandalay.
A host of tour operators are re-entering Burma this year. Intrepid Travel will run its first trip in March 2012 and has 19 departures scheduled until March 2013. (15 days from £1230pp, intrepidtravel.com)
Brazil beyond Rio
With the World Cup hitting its shores in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, Brazil is speedily becoming the hottest South American destination. But while the Copacabana beach and favelas of Rio are nothing new, we reckon you should take the opportunity this year to check out what else this mammoth country has to offer.
Busy, cosmopolitan Sao Paulo is the third largest city in the world and known for top-notch Brazilian and international food, especially modern Japanese and Italian. On the flipside, Morro de Sao Paulo is a car-free village paradise on the island of Tinhare near Salvador. (braziltour.com)
For a challenging experience heavy on the adventure, look no further than a Gobi desert camping trip to thrust you into the wilds. Rare wildlife and exotic scenery are just the window-dressing on a journey into the heart of Mongolia.
With the help of a guide, you’ll cook local market food, discover spectacular landscapes such as the Yolin ice canyon and sand dunes, relive the past at historical monuments and monastery ruins, and even bear witness to a dinosaur graveyard. Two- and three-week options are available, but it’s the 21-day trip that has us most excited. (21 days from £1140pp, dragoman.com)
The Indian Bush
Tourists have slogged through the cities of India for decades, and those seeking a bohemian beach getaway know to flock south and find Goa or Kerala. But you’ll be a pioneer among your traveller mates if you go bush.
Dragoman’s new 14-day Chennai to Calcutta tour gets you overlanding through Andhra Pradesh, one of India’s least developed states, and camping in the remote hill tribes of Orissa. Along with most of eastern India, Orissa is barely even set up for mainstream tourism, and that’s exactly why we reckon you’ll love it. New frontiers are increasingly hard for a traveller to come by these days, so we suggest you grab this opportunity with both hands. (From £550pp, dragoman.com)
It’s not the first place you’d think to go trekking, but Armenia has earned its crust as a bucket list destination. This rugged, canyon-pocked part of The Silk Road is made up of lush forests, volcanic formations, glistening lakes and the spectacular Sulema mountain range.
Passing through villages, you’ll gorge on eastern and western culture collisions, navigate some jagged peaks and may be lucky enough to spot a wolf, lynx, bear or Caucasian leopard prowling the region.
Keep an eye on TNT for how to do Armenia independently, or check out the new hiking trips with Walks Worldwide, leaving on June 3, July 8 and September 9. (£1245pp, walksworldwide.com)
As Kenya continues to struggle amid a storm of bad publicity, the former king of the African tourism industry is – through no intention of its own – standing aside to make way for other nations on this continent in 2012.
Following the dollarisation of the economy and a powersharing government, Zimbabwe is becoming more attractive to travellers. Among Africa’s most beautiful countries, an ongoing drive to promote conservation projects and opportunities to volunteer means Zimbabwe is appealing to a growing number of ethical tourists.
Our top picks? Visit Victoria Falls to take an ultralight flight, or visit the only national park in Africa (with lions) that allows unguided walking safaris – how brave are you? (zimbabwetourism.net)
New direct flights from Amsterdam will give Panama an edge over Costa Rica, which it has long tussled with for tourist trade. This is a destination unfettered by tourist crowds, offering the best of everything. Go to Panama City for five-star service at three-star prices and a rollicking nightlife. Then, venture further afield for spectacular Caribbean beaches, volcanic landscapes, lush rain forests, rivers and mountains, and remote archipelagos that offer unique experiences in the way of indigenous culture. Hurry, though – it won’t be a secret for long. (visitpanama.com)
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North America: Up and coming destinations
There are loads of emerging destinations for travel in the US and Canada this year.
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK Manhattan, Schmanhattan – see the tourist staples and then get yourself over the bridge to Brooklyn, where a more cutting-edge New York scene is at. Contemporary art, hipster and southern soul-food movements are just a few reasons to explore: look out for our guide to the must-visit neighbourhoods later this year.
AUSTIN, TEXAS If you thought Texas was all rednecks wearing cowboy hats and screeching “yeeee-haaaaaaahhhhh!”, think again. A more bohemian bent is creeping into the state capital, and it’s a haven for foodies and outdoor enthusiasts too. Keep an eye on TNT for the full story.
VINTAGE VEGAS Do your bank balance a favour and forget the casinos – Downtown Vegas, with its retro flea market and museum of where the old neon signs go to die, makes a more imaginative trip to the Nevada desert. We’ll
be checking it out.
YUKON RIVER Get off the beaten track and into the Canadian wilderness, where you can share tourist-free lakes, forests and mountains with bald eagles and black bears. Grand American Adventures is now offering a new tour with camping.
See: grandamericanadventures.com; from £1429pp.
CLICK NEXT PAGE FOR COMEBACK DESTINATIONS OF 2012
Comeback travel destinations
It’s been a tough year for some travel hotspots. Here are the ones set to make a comeback in 2012.
The country that kicked off the Middle Eastern uprisings is welcoming tourists to a freer, democratic Tunisia in 2012. And it seems to be pursuing a tourism makeover as well as a political one, moving away from its image as a sun-and-sea destination to encourage exploration of its 3000 years of culture, history and diverse landscapes (including a troglodyte town used to film Star Wars).
You’d think the country that has Petra wouldn’t ever find itself facing tourism woes, but Jordan was unfairly tarred with the Arab Spring brush in 2011. The Middle East’s mightiest holiday spot looks set to return to its former glories in 2012, however, as it marks the 200th anniversary of the western world’s ‘discovery’ of Petra. There’s more to explore here besides the usual tick-list, though – keep an eye on TNT this month for more.
The Land of the Rising Sun had a tough year, with visitor numbers plunging more than 60 per cent following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March. But traveller confidence in the country was already growing towards the end of 2011, with visitor numbers down just 30 per cent and improving. Japan is now also the proud owner of a new Unesco World Heritage Site, the Ogasawara Group, an archipelago of more than 30 volcanic islands home to endemic species – the Galapagos of the east, if you will. The 10,000 free flights the tourist board is reportedly thinking about offering to travellers could also help.
A seemingly unshakeable cloud of uncertainty has shrouded Egypt since protests began in January 2011, and the recent clashes around Tahrir Square have done little to disperse it. However, so long as tourists and tours avoid demonstrations and elections – and really, why wouldn’t they? – travellers should feel no fear at returning. Let’s hope that in 2012, visitors begin to believe this – tourism accounts for 10 per cent of the country’s income.