Bucket list 2013, where to go on holiday this year
From indulging Robinson Crusoe fantasies in the Polynesian paradise of the Cook Islands to black rhino-spotting in Zimbabwe’s strikingly beautiful hinterland, Ruth Styles rounds up the destinations that should be at the top of your list over the next 12 months.
The comeback kid: Sri Lanka
Years of war and the 2004 tsunami have kept Sri Lanka off most itineraries, but thanks to massive government investment and the end of hostilities in 2009, the country is firmly back on the tourist map. All of which is good news for travellers because Sri Lanka has much to offer. A 2,000-year-old culture, eight UNESCO sites, palm-fringed beaches and tropical jungle inland make it one of the Indian Ocean’s most diverse places to holiday, while the low prices make it more accessible than most.
Adventurous in Africa: Chiredzi, Zimbabwe
This year’s Livingstone bicentenary is the perfect excuse to take a fresh look at southern Africa Zimbabwe in particular. Although the malign influence of Robert Mugabe is still evident, away from Harare you’ll find some of the most beauteous countryside on Earth, diverse wildlife and incredibly friendly people. Head to the Malilangwe Reserve in the remote Chiredzi district to take a closer look at the animals, as well as the chance to indulge in some dictator-approved luxury – Pamushana (singita.com), the reserve’s eco-friendly lodge, was once a favoured destination of the Gaddafi clan.
Natural born thriller: Lewa Conservancy, Kenya
Owned by the well-connected Craig family, the Lewa Conservancy (lewasafaricamp.com) in northern Kenya is famous for its record-breaking numbers of Grévy’s zebra and for being the spot where Prince William broke a million aspiring princesses’ hearts by proposing to Kate Middleton. Follow in royal footsteps and bed down for the night in one of the Conservancy’s luxe eco-tents, before heading out at dawn for a closer look at those zebra and spectacular views of the sun rising over Mount Kenya.
Having a moment: truly ‘great’ Britain
Call it the Olympic effect if you like, but there’s no denying that Britain is having a moment. Forbes magazine’s most culturally-influential country of 2012 has even more to offer in 2013, including the opening of Europe’s tallest building, London’s Renzo Piano-designed Shard, in February, and a wealth of cultural and music festivals to look forward to during the summer months. Away from the capital, head west to Northern Ireland’s Londonderry – the UK capital of culture for 2013 – and south to Cornwall, where you’ll find spectacular beaches and some seriously bijou places to stay.
The diver’s dream: Tobago
Frequently overshadowed by its larger sister island, Trinidad, Tobago offers a beguiling combination of perfect white sand beaches, few tourists and some of the best diving in the world. The Japanese Gardens reef just off Speyside in the north of the island is home to the world’s largest brain coral, while Buccoo Reef has enough marine life to keep you entertained for hours. Stay at the Magdalena Grand (magdalenagrand.com), where along with wonderful sea views, you’ll find the Caribbean’s best piña coladas courtesy of its consistently charming barman, Kevin.
Off beaten tracks: the Philippines
Both culturally and physically separate from the rest of Asia, the Philippines remain relatively undiscovered, although that’s largely down to its size. With more than 7,000 islands, there’s enough room to keep even the most intrepid explorer busy for months, while for everyone else, there’s miles of gleaming white beaches, emerald-green paddy fields and the exhilarating organised shambles that is the capital, Manila. While the country has no shortage of backpacker-type dive hotels, it’s garnering a reputation for serious luxury, courtesy of its growing army of boutique hotels. The tiny 15-room Eskaya (eskayaresort.com), tucked away on the tropical Panglao Island, is a case in point.
Back to its best: Beirut
The Lebanese capital has had a bad press in the past, largely due to the civil war that ripped the country apart during the ‘80s. Although the bullet holes remain, the city is now a vibrant hotspot that is swiftly becoming one of the best places to party in the Middle East. Wonderful Ottoman and colonial-era architecture make it easy on the eye, as do the snow-capped Lebanon Mountains that flank the city’s eastern boundary. Thanks to the maniacal drivers, crossing the road is an extreme sport, but most of the locals are warmly welcoming.
Real Wild West: Arizona
Complete with towering cacti, miles of dusty desert and old-fashioned frontier towns, Arizona is the perfect place to indulge your inner cowboy. At the White Stallion Ranch (whitestallion.com) in the Saguaro National Park, you can try your hand at traditional Western pastimes such as team cattle penning and horse-whispering before retreating to the equine-themed bar for a chilled out sun-downer. Further north, the mighty Grand Canyon and red massifs of Monument Valley are geological marvels that are not to be missed.
Nordic cool: Stockholm
Copenhagen might be leading the Nordic revival, but Stockholm is teed up to give the Danish capital a real run for its money in 2013. In May, the new ABBA museum opens in Djurgarden, while this month sees the launch of Nosh & Chow – a ridiculously cool addition to Stockholm’s smorgasbord of dining options, located at the equally stylish Berns Hotel (berns.se). The Swedish capital is also gaining ground on its Danish rival thanks to the enduring popularity of Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its kick-ass heroine, Lisbeth Salander. Sarah who?
Remote paradise: the Cook Islands
Scattered across the western Pacific Ocean, the Cook Islands are a tropical wonderland that marry a 1,000-year-old Polynesian culture with the opportunity to let your inner Robinson Crusoe run riot. Rarotonga, the largest of the 15 islands, offers a magical mixture of dense wildlife-filled jungles, jagged sawtooth peaks, bone-white beaches and the chance to relax in style at the isolated Te Vakaroa Villas (tevakaroa.com). Overlooking the stunning Muri Lagoon, each of the six cottages comes with a private infinity pool and a personal guide.
Perfect city break: New Orleans
An area that has become synonymous with the word ‘hurricane’ might not sound like the ideal spot for a break, but New Orleans – and the surrounding state of Louisiana – are well worth the price of a plane ticket. Swampy bayous, cleaned-up golden sand beaches and New Orleans’ Franco-American brand of bonhomie make the region completely irresistible. The old French Quarter remains a vibrant place to tuck into a plate of fried catfish, while the Afro-Caribbean soundtrack emanating from the bars and clubs provides the perfect foil for the city’s grand European-style architecture.
Ruth Styles is an award-winning travel and lifestyle journalist, who writes for the Daily Mail, the Evening Standard and National Geographic Traveller among others. Based in London, she has also lived in Africa and the Middle East, and spends much of the year roaming the globe. Favourite places: Namibia, Oman, Zanzibar and Copenhagen.
Download our full Travel 2013 section