I’ve been reading about this year’s hottest travel destinations, and dreaming of my next big adventure. For me it’s all about the up-and-coming vacation spots that may not be on everyone’s radar, the Instagrammers who’ve inspired me to put cities on my bucket list that didn’t earlier cross my mind, and the sense of disovery in uncovering hidden gems that are just as worthwhile as the world’s most iconic tourist spots.
Countries that were once considered obscure are now coming into fashion as travelers worldwide look for more authentic, and less touristy, experiences. There are plenty of spots to explore. Here’s my list:
Called “Europe’s rising star” by Thomson, this Balkan nation is a melting pot of cultures that also boasts sunny beaches on the Black Sea. It’s also the top pick for budget destinations on Travelstart Egypt’s blog. Try Nessebar, called the ‘Pearl of the Black Sea’ — it combines a stunning old town, 3,000 years of history and a seafront with beautiful hotels. Sofia, the capital, is as cultured and vibrant as any city in Western Europe.
Like Bulgaria, this Balkan country is an underrated European gem with some travellers calling it the most beautiful place they’ve seen. Mountains, medieval villages, sunny beaches on the Adriatic, Venetian-influenced architecture — this small nation has it all. Ranked as the #1 emerging destination by The Resident magazine, Montenegro also has one of the world’s fastest-growing tourism industries. It isn’t likely to stay an insider’s secret much longer.
This South American country was once reserved for the hardcore traveller yearning to trek to Machu Picchu or the Amazon rainforest. It’s now one of the trendiest and quickly emerging destinations. Lima boasts quite a restaurant scene that pulls in foodies, as well as a thriving art scene. If you want, you can leave your backpack at home — Lima has plenty of luxury hotels and shopping to make it a refined experience.
Chile is another fast-emerging country that continues the trend for rediscovering South America, perhaps at a slower and more luxurious pace. Ranked by Lonely Planet last year as one of the best destinations in the world, this naturally diverse country isn’t showing signs of slowing down. It still tops many lists of best destinations for 2017. If you’re a beach addict, you’ve got 6,000km of the Pacific Ocean. If you love nature, Chile has it all, from the glaciers at Patagonia to the Atacama Desert. For more inspiration, check out @TheSlowTraveler on Instagram for gorgeous photos from around South America.
6. South Africa
Surprisingly affordable, South Africa has much more to offer than safaris — although you will find some of the best wildlife and scenery here as well. You can explore the vibrant culture and difficult history of apartheid at Johannesburg, take surfing lessons in Cape Town or trek the Drakensburg mountains. If you’ve never been on safari, the sight of wild animals in their own environment is unforgettable. And contrary to popular belief, safaris don’t have to be long or expensive — you can arrange for a day visit to a national park if your time or budget is limited (I recommend Felleng Day Tours).
I’ve visited Taiwan recently and still can’t stop thinking about it. Just 180km east of China, Taiwan has the traditional temples, stunning mountains and — surprisingly — exotic beaches. Since it’s not as vast as China, it’s more manageable if you want to explore the country in depth. The food is some of the best I’ve ever had.
While Canada has generated a buzz as a hot destination for 2017, I’d recommend going a bit northwest to the US state of Alaska. It’s the most sparsely populated state, known for its wildlife, small and charming towns, mountains and forests. It’s a nature lover’s paradise. Alaska caught my attention recently when travel blogger Kirsten Alana documented her journey there on Instagram (@KirstenAlana). Her photos of sweeping evergreens crossed by trains and icy lakes traversed by canoes inspired me to put it at the top of my bucket list.
Most travellers won’t need much convincing to put this wildly popular country on their list. The weather in Bangkok is nearly perfect in January, and the beaches are epic — the very stuff of images on screen savers. If you’ve been to Bangkok and the popular islands like Phuket, try a lesser-known paradise like Koh Lanta, a somewhat bohemian and low-key alternative.
Just next door to Thailand is Laos, a Southeast Asian country crossed by the Mekong River and known for its mountains and Buddhist monasteries. Left isolated after long wars, Laos boasts a leisurely old-world charm, friendly locals and exotic temples and scenery.
Everyone knows the pyramids and Luxor, but there are dozens of lesser-visited gems that deserve more attention. I’d rank Egypt at the top of the list any day because it’s so accessible, so affordable and so varied in its landscapes. And I’m not just saying that because I live here. From tours of downtown Cairo’s architecture to ecolodges in Fayoum, Egypt offers endless options that make it a destination you can’t ever really cross off your list.