Here’s your inside track on the top 10 destinations to watch in 2019. As travellers yearn for unique adventures and experiences, new regions and
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Here’s your inside track on the top 10 destinations to watch in 2019. As travellers yearn for unique adventures and experiences, new regions and lesser known pieces of paradise are gaining traction. These previously overlooked countries will top everyone’s ‘hot lists’ for savvy travellers. In addition to making exquisite shots for your Instagram feeds, there are plenty of other reasons to visit paradise. Curious? Welcome to our ten Destinations to Watch for 2019.
Mongolia isn’t a country that crosses most people’s minds when they think of travelling, but it should be. At least for those who enjoy something a whole lot different, like venturing to a luxurious yurt campsite, meeting nomadic people, partaking in unusual cultural festivals, or hitting the rails on the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway.
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Yurts truly are worth a visit and usually come with a sauna and beds covered with handmade yak blankets. Horseback riding trips and sunrise hikes complete the package. Perfect for riding off into the sunset.
Travellers can also explore the Gobi Desert, where they will uncover dinosaur remains petrified in Bayanzag (beautiful, flaming red cliffs). In fact, it’s where the first complete dinosaur egg was found! For those who think the desert is too hot and dry to appeal, there are plenty of alternatives to explore with areas covered with woods, lakes, steppe and the incredible Altai Mountains with its Five Holy Peaks.
When travelling around the country, or taking any long hikes in the wilderness, visitors are bound to come across the nomadic people who still live in Mongolia. As digital nomads take over the cafes of the world, these original nomads offer an entirely different take on life, far from wifi signals and laptops.
For those seeking solitude, Mongolia provides the perfect place to get away from it all as the total population of about 3 million makes this one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world.
For the spiritually inclined, Mongolia offers a large number of Buddhist temples which open their doors to travellers. There is the possibility to walk on the shards of history, quite literally, when paying a visit to the Erdene Zuu Monastery. Not only is it the most famous Buddhist monastery in the country, it’s built on top of the ruins of the former headquarters of Genghis Khan.
Feeling more festive than spiritual? The Naadam Festival, which takes place in July every year in Ulaanbaatar, shows off the heritage of sport in Mongolia. Three sports are celebrated: Mongolian wrestling, archery and horse racing. The festival also offers plenty of food, drink and cultural events––the perfect crash course in Mongolian culture.
For those who wish to arrive in style, taking the Trans-Siberian Railway to Mongolia is an option. It’s possible to board in Moscow, or Beijing, and enjoy the stunning varied scenery on the rails all the way to Mongolia.
Mongolia is known as the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky because it has about 250 sunny days per year on average. But visitors shouldn’t be fooled — in winter the temperature drops to below -30 °C (-22 °F) at times. The capital, Ulaanbaatar, is actually the coldest capital in the world, with an average temperature of −1.3 °C (29.7 °F). This is why it’s recommended to visit Mongolia between June-August when the weather’s warm and dry.
For travellers seeking a warmer place for adventure, Oman needs to be on the radar. We leave the perceived problems of the Middle East to the talking heads on the telly and put Oman as a hot spot to watch this new year. Far removed from the high rises of neighbouring United Arab Emirates, Oman offers towns with traditional charm. Having been a trading post for many centuries, the people take pride in their heritage and Bedouin roots.
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Fashion, jewellery and design lovers will swoon during a visit to the souks in Oman. Handmade items ranging from kitchenware to leather bags are on display in hundreds of small stands. The multitude of colours and designs make visitors feel like they’ve entered Aladdin’s cave. The Muttrah Souq in the capital of Muscat is particularly well-known and filled to the brink with wares.
Starting in Muscat’s National Museum (for archaeological finds that detail the history of Oman), the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the Royal Opera House gives one a sense of the architectural and cultural prowess of this nation.
Travellers to Oman will notice various scents floating about in the air like coffee mixed with cardamom, (and locals invariably invite visitors into their homes to try some) and frankincense. Made with the resin from the Boswellia tree, frankincense has been produced in Oman since antiquity and been sent as a gift to plenty a king and queen.
For nature lovers, a desert adventure in the Empty Quarter Desert, or Sharqiya Sands, is in order. Here there’s an opportunity to ride camels, go 4x4ing, or camp underneath starry skies.
In the mountains (and there are plenty in Oman, the most famous possibly being the Dhofar Mountains) rock climbing, hiking up wadis, exploring caves and fossil hunting are all activities to wow any itinerary. Oman is famous for its many fossils and travellers are literally likely to stumble upon them in the Empty Quarter, as well as in many of the mountains.
One of the most popular, albeit hot, time to visit Oman is during July to September for turtle hatching season. The trill of witnessing five different kinds of baby sea turtles hatch along the beaches takes your trip from wonderful to unforgettable. While at the beach, there’s also the option to indulge in scuba diving, an activity easy to come by given the rich waters of the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, and the Gulf of Oman.
Animal lovers would do well to note the abundance of wildlife in Salalah, including various birds, oryx and gazelles and in Dhofar one can even find Arabian leopards. The rainy season from June to September turns Salalah, the desert city, into a green oasis. The Salalah Khareef Festival celebrates this with performances and various stalls selling traditional foods and handicrafts. The festival runs from around mid-July to the end of August.
Oman has a warm climate and it’s therefore best to avoid visiting during the height of summer from June until August, with the exception of Salalah.
Bhutan, or the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is a gorgeous country to explore thanks to the Bhutanese working hard on the preservation of their natural and cultural traditions, while also pressing forth with sustainable socio-economic development. This means that a visit feels like stepping back in time, even as you’re offered every modern convenience that a luxury travellers expect. It is for this reason that Bhutan is one of the hottest destinations for 2019.
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Many visitors are drawn to Bhutan simply because of the legendary scenery — mountains and rivers crisscross each other, creating a beautiful and diverse landscape. Spread throughout this beautiful country, visitors will also discover Bhutanese monasteries; many which are a sight to behold.
The Tiger’s Nest Monastery (Taktsang Goemba) is one standout, located on a vertical cliff along the mountainside. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche flew here on the back of a flaming tigress in 1692, during its construction.
The landscape isn’t just peppered with beautiful Buddhist temples, but also dzongs – traditional forts. The Tshechu Festival takes place in these forts and monasteries. You will find the annual religious festival filled with mask dances, dance, dramas, and other cultural happenings.
For the culturally inclined, it’s worth noting their national sport of archery and the13 arts and crafts, known as the Zorig Chusum, that the Bhutanese have mastered. These include woodwork, stonework, carving, painting, sculpting, wood turning, black smithing, ornament making, bamboo work, paper making, tailoring and weaving. You will enjoy bringing these exceptional souvenirs home. The National Institute of Zorig Chusum in Thimphu is an interesting cultural visit. The Bhutanese artists do not sign artwork — art is supposed to speak for itself, much like the value, or belief the artwork represents.
The Bhutanese take great pride in their approach to clean air and organic farming thanks to a slightly different way of measuring prosperity — the Gross National Happiness Index which doesn’t conflict with the Gross Domestic Product Index. Bhutan focuses on physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing, just as much as economic wellbeing.
Such is the respect and belief Bhutan places on its relationship with nature. While hiking through the beautiful landscape is encouraged, it’s forbidden to climb to the very top of some of the high mountains, such as Mount Jhomolhari and Jitchu Drake. It is believed that spirits call the mountaintops their heavenly abode and should remain undisturbed.
That said, mountaineering in Bhutan is a wonderful experience where visitors will be greeted by pristine landscapes, swift rivers and beautiful lakes. In spring the blossoming rhododendrons are a sight for sore eyes too.
Bhutan has five, not four, seasons: summer, monsoon, autumn, winter and spring. March to May and September to November are the preferred months to visit as the weather is relatively temperate. The rhododendron bloom from March to April. December to February is the perfect time to enjoy the Himalayan cold.
There was a time when a mention of an upcoming trip to Colombia would be met with a terrified stare — as if you wanted to purposefully put yourself in harm’s way. Today, this destination to watch for 2019 attracts adventurous travellers from all over the world. There’s a good reason for this — from treasure hunting, to trekking through the rainforest, Colombia offers a lot of exceptional experiences.
One of the main draws to Colombia is the coffee. Freshly ground doesn’t get fresher than when you bike around the coffee country and stop to drink a cup at all the different coffee farms in pedalling distance.
For nature lovers, there are many adventurous opportunities — rock climbing and hiking being two of the most popular ways of taking in the scenery. Popular destinations for outdoor enthusiasts include the rocky terrain near Suesca, Valle de Cocora and El Cocuy National Park. And given Colombia has more birdlife than any other country, birdwatchers are in for a treat.
For a real adventure in nature, however, many choose to trek to the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) in Santa Marta — a city dating back to the 9th century. This trek goes through the rainforest and takes three to seven days.
There’s more than nature to Colombia — the walled city centre of Cartagena, with its Spanish Colonial architecture and impressive fortress, and the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas draws anyone who enjoys history and culture. The city wall is also an excellent place for lovers to sit and watch the sunset, while the plazas tend to draw flash mobs.
Colombia indeed is a country that draws adrenaline junkies with its many wrecks and coral reefs to dive along the coastline. Here anyone who ever fancied themselves a treasure hunter can make their dreams come true. Meeting a humpback whale can also be added to the itinerary if visiting between July-September.
Malpelo Islands offer one of the world’s largest shark populations––definitively not for the faint of heart. Of course, the pristine blue waters and long beaches lend themselves to relaxing in the sun too. There’s nothing saying travellers can’t go to Colombia just to stretch out in the sun and bring home a great tan.
Botogá, which is the capital of Colombia, is nestled high up in the Andes Mountains. Here visitors will find everything from old-fashioned, open-air markets to trendy neighbourhoods.
Medellin used to be famous for its drug wars, but in 2013 it became famous for being the world’s most innovative city. Entrepreneurs have celebrated its newfound peace in style and visitors will be welcomed with open arms to thriving businesses. For the party seeker, check the Barranquilla Carnival off your bucket list which takes place during Lent, 40 days before Holy Week.
The best time to visit Colombia is from December to February, when the climate is warm and dry. The rainy season in the Andes kicks in during low season from October-November.
Dubbed an open-air museum, due to the many historical sites able to be explored out in the open, Jordan is one of the safest countries to visit in the Middle East––two key reasons why this country graces our list for 2019. Amman, the capital, is one of the world’s oldest cities — it’s been inhabited for ca. 7,000 years. The son of Cleopatra once rebuilt the entire city, before it was handed over to the Romans. This is why, today, visitors find an incredible Roman amphitheatre here, which still hosts events. There is also an art district and an old town worth visiting. The elevated Rainbow Street in the Jabal-Amman district offers stunning views of the old town when you need a break from touring.
One of the new seven wonders of the world is located in Jordan — the rose-red coloured city of Petra. Here one can view ancient palaces cut into the red rocks. Mars can be a bit tricky to get to, but for those who have always fancied going consider an alternative––the desert landscape of Wadi Rum, a film location for the movie Lawrence of Arabia. Here tourists can camp under the stars with the Bedouins and watch storied unearthly sunsets so incredible they will have you “Dream your dreams with open eyes and make them come true” (T.E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia).
While in the desert, a trip to the Dead Sea is in order. Due to the high salt content in the Dead Sea, it’s entirely possible to simply float around. Visitors who enjoy the outdoors can, in addition to desert adventures, trek through the Dana Biosphere Reserve, with its intriguing stone formations, mountains, and valleys, the reserve is also one of the best places in the world to stargaze.
Jordan is famous for and proud that Christians and Muslims live peacefully and work together side-by-side. For Christians, Mount Nebo where Moses is believed to have seen The Promised Land, is a huge attraction. Close by you will find the town of Madaba, famous for its mosaic artworks.
For snorkel enthusiasts, the Red Sea offers brilliant opportunities for underwater adventures. There’s an iconic tank to be explored underwater near Aqaba, as well as several coral reefs.
March to May are the best months to visit Jordan, due to the mild climate. Come June, Jordan gets very hot, which lasts until August, though it can still be sweltering in September. While not as popular as March-May, October to November are still good months to visit, while December till February can get very cold.
Beautiful coastline and incredible game parks, coupled with a great climate make Namibia a beautiful slice of paradise and a major destination to explore in 2019.
The Namibian coastline isn’t just beautiful with fancy little adventure travel towns like Swakopmund. The northern part of the coastline is known as Skeleton Coast, where you can view decaying shipwrecks. The Skeleton Coast has also been called The Land God Made in Anger and The Gates of Hell. Mainly due to the heavy fog leading into ships to peril and the impossibility of sailing through the shoaled sea.
The Namib Desert is the world’s oldest living desert, a whopping 80 million years old! The most famous of the sand dunes in the desert, Dune 45’s odd shape appears like a wave in a sandy sea. Visitors will also find the world’s highest rust-red sand dunes in Sossusvlei.
In Dead Vlei tourists are met by petrified camel thorn trees, which are a sight to behold. Their silhouettes at sunset are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. These beauties are not far away from Twyfelfontein’s ancient rock art. In fact, Twylfontein offers one of the largest collections of rock petroglyphs in Africa.
For those who fancy something a little bit spooky, there’s Kolmanskop, a ghost town in southern Namibia and one-time diamond mining town. The Quiver Tree Forest is another must-see in Namibia where trees look a little bit like they’ve been turned upside down, with their roots sticking upwards toward the heavens. Their silhouettes are reminiscent of the beauty of Joshua Trees in Southern California.
One of the most incredible game reserves in Africa, Etosha National Park offers a great chance of seeing wildlife up close. While The Namib Rand Nature Reserve is one of the world’s top stargazing locations and a great way for nature lovers to enjoy Namibia, with little light pollution and an interesting position in relation to the night sky, it’s the perfect place to bring a telescope. For more natural fun, hike Fish River Canyon, the largest canyon in Africa.
If nature isn’t your thing, then enjoy some of the most unique, varied people-watching in the world. While travellers will find plenty of modern and glamorous people in the Namibian cities, in the wilderness there’s the possibility of encountering The Himba Tribes, where the women clean their bodies with incense, not water; and the San Bushmen, the world’s most ancient race of people with a childlike innocence and love of nature. In the town of Herero, visitors will be greeted by polygamist Christians wearing interesting garb where the women wear Victorian dresses and the men wear uniforms.
April to October is the best time to visit — particularly for hikers who don’t want to overheat in the sun. December-March the climate often turns humid, with thunderstorms in the afternoons.
Frida Kahlo’s colourful paintings, together with hot red chillies, big portions of nachos, tequila, and Day of the Dead artworks with colourful skulls, are a few of the things that usually come to mind when dreaming of Mexico. But, there’s a lot more to Mexico for the curious traveller, including 33 World Heritage Sites. It is this mix of traditional, colourful and eclectic that brings Mexico as a definitive destination to watch in 2019.
The Sea of Cortez, off the coast of famous Baja California, has been nicknamed the world’s aquarium and for a good reason — there are over 900 species of fish here. Scuba divers rejoice. Playa del Amor — the beach of love — can only be reached by an underwater tunnel. How’s that for exploring something new?
For the history buff, a trip to Mexico means exploring Mayan ruins. And travellers will have a hard time choosing. There are so many it will take weeks, if not months, to explore them all––Chichen Itza, near the Ik Kil sinkhole which is open for swimming; Tulum, Palenque, and Uxmal are just a few well-known hot spots.
And for travellers who go places just for the sake of a great name the lighthouse Sueño Posible, the possible dream, can also be found in Mexico in a quaint coastal town, well worth a visit.
The city of Xalapa, home to the jalapeño pepper, is surrounded by coffee estates and nicknamed The City of Flowers because of the multitude of flowers that thrive here. Visiting in spring means plenty of Instagram opportunities, or merely an opportunity to sit back, relax and breathe in the scent of flowers in bloom. The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve can also be found in Mexico, together with millions of monarch butterflies who spend their winters there. To meet a million butterflies is an experience that is as unique as it gets.
If one prefers to meet Hollywood stars that’s also quite possible in Cabo San Lucas (or just Cabo), where the rich and famous tend to come for relaxation. The fanciest hotels here have the privilege of private beaches. For those seeking a big city break, Mexico City is the port of call (including an island filled with discarded dolls that were initially placed there to ward off evil spirits, but look more like something out of a horror movie), while Guadalajara is the trendy upstart.
Mexico is a big country, so the best time to visit depends on the region, but as a general rule December to May are the best months to visit as there’s very little rain and the temperature isn’t too hot.
Italy seems to have a default entry in any travel bucket list, but Northern Italy has a vibe of its own with world-class cuisine, and artwork dating back to The Renaissance, born here. Discovering the balcony where Romeo is said to have spoken to Juliet is one of many reasons that make this a destination to watch in 2019.
Visiting Tuscany calls for a cooking class. Here visitors refine their skills by making their own pasta, tomato soup, biscotti and pizza the way it was meant to be, while sipping a glass of Italian wine. For culinary lovers, a visit to Piedmont is also in order — this is the home of truffles, the Barolo vineyards, the Barolo Castle with the Wine Museum and the slow-food movement. It’s easy to understand why the slow-food movement was born in a place where people genuinely enjoy cooking and proudly use fresh ingredients, whether from their own backyard or their neighbour’s.
Cinque Terre is one of the world’s most picturesque locations — compromising of five villages nestled along the coastline. Unlike Venice, cars are banned, or simply not able to drive in the hilly terrain, so visitors can arrive by boat, foot, or train. For travellers seeking old world charm, this is a must-see destination.
Northern Italy is also a unique location due to its many lakes, notably Lake Como, but also Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore. Hidden away in the Alps, these lakes are surrounded by natural beauty. On Lake Maggiore you find the Borromean Islands, on which a palace was built in the 1600s and still stand intact today — complete with peacocks and botanical gardens. Sailing on the lakes is a popular pastime and the perfect way to experience La dolce vita.
For romantics, a visit to Verona, the famed city of Romeo and Juliet, as well as a gondola trip in Venice needs to be on the itinerary. The trend of art and romance stretches to Milan — especially for the fashion lover. The Da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology is an intriguing place to discover for the artists in the family.
The best time of the year to visit northern Italy is usually considered to be April-June and September-October, due to the mild climate. However the summer months of July-August and winter does make for hot summer vacations and cosy winter getaways.
Indonesia is made up of islands (with plenty of active volcanoes) set against the backdrop of turquoise oceans. It’s the kind of paradise everyone should visit a few times in their lifetime. With a long list of underrated natural attractions, there are many excellent reasons why Indonesia is a destination to watch in 2019.
For those seeking to go back in time and meet the dinosaurs, the Komodo dragons are a good place to start. Only inhabiting the islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang and Padar in Indonesia, these large gentle beasts weigh in about 80 kilos and best viewed from far away.
Sumatra coffee is well-known and its possible for visitors to indulge in a cup in Sumatra, while visiting the orangutans and elephants in Bukit Lawang. The elephants are trained to protect the park from poachers and go on patrol. Visitors looking for adventure can also visit the volcanoes of Berastagi, have a swim with the sharks in Pulau Weh and visit the tigers in Kerinci Seblat.
The Coral Triangle, the general region between Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Papua New Guinea, offers 2,000 species of fish and underwater beauty. 20% of the world’s coral reefs are found in Indonesia making it the definitive destination for scuba divers. Ever heard of Rajah Ampat? Well you have now and you need to make space for this marine marvel in your calendar.
Enjoying Kopi Luwak (coffee from beans that were passed through the Asian palm civet) in Java is a given when exploring Indonesia. It’s on this mega island that visitors will find the world’s largest Buddhist temple, Borobudur (home to no less than 500 Buddha statues), and the city of Bandung. In stark contrast to the city is the lake of Kawah Putih and the dramatic stunning views from the still active steaming volcano Tangkuban Perahu, meaning Overturned Boat, found in Bandung’s hilltops. Tangkuban Perahu has erupted at least 30 times in the previous 40,750 years. While Lake Kawah Putih’s tranquillity of pale turquoise water surrounded by white beaches, makes for a surreal sight in this tropical country.
The island of Bali has become a surfer and new age paradise, with as many yoga retreats as there are enlightened gurus to welcome visitors who have had enough of the 9-5 and are looking to unwind in paradise. The natural beauty of the island doesn’t exactly get in the way of the quest of enlightenment either. Rain or shine, there is magic in the air in Bali. Indonesia is an all year-all weather destination and ideal for short breaks to month long retreats.
Sri Lanka seems to be an on-again and off-again destination – primarily driven by politics. The vibrations of recent chaos would put off any serious traveller however the robust and constant call to visit tends to outweigh the negative. Sri Lanka offers a paradise that surfers talk about as the Bali of thirty years ago, while tea lovers oh and ah about the Ceylon tea and beach bummers, well, bum on the tropical beaches. Politicians and politics aside, Sri Lanka finds a firm spot in our destinations to watch in 2019.
Colombo, the capital, is where the journey would begin and it is where keen shoppers will find a plethora of different clothing outlets, as well as tea, spices and gemstones. Worth noting, train travel from Colombo to Jaffna has been re-established on a route scenic enough for anyone to swoon.
For the tea lover, Sri Lanka is paradise, because of its many tea plantations in Hill Country. Ceylon tea cannot be fresher than when drunk in Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon.
Sri Lanka offers a cave monastery, the Golden Temple of Dambulla, which has been a pilgrimage site for over 2,000 years. Another famous pilgrimage site is the Sacred City of Kandy, nestled in the mountains. The old city of Galle comes with a dollop of picturesque colonial charm, and some wild nightlife.
Speaking of wild, the Uda Walawe and Yala West National Parks should also be on the itinerary for nature lovers because of the many opportunities to spot animals like leopards and elephants. Volunteers will enjoy working alongside curators in elephant sanctuaries on the island. When it’s time to leave land for the sea you will enjoy cruising the azure waters on the coast to discover blue whales, the largest animals to have ever lived on earth, as well as spinner dolphins, and many other sea creatures. The Sri Lankan Riviera will very soon gain ground for its golden beaches and lush, green tropical backdrop.
As there are two monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka, planning a trip tends to get tricky. Overall the high season is December-March and these months are particularly suitable for the western and southern coasts as well as the Hill Country. During May-August the monsoon season hits those areas. However, for the eastern and northern part of the country, April-September is preferable, as the Maha monsoon season runs in those parts of the country from October-January. ◼
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© This article was first published in Dec-Jan 2019 edition of World Travel Magazine.
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