Lonely Planet just released its newest edition of Best in Travel. To start with a bang, here’s our list of the ten hottest countries for next year - and why.
El Salvador sneaks up on you: in lefty lounge bars in San Salvador, at sobering war memorials and museums, and along lush cloud-forest trails; it’s a place of remarkable warmth and intelligence, made all the more appealing for being so unexpected. Travellers tend to skip El Salvador, wooed by marquee destinations such as Guatemala and Costa Rica, and unnerved by stories of civil war and gang violence. But the war ended almost 20 years ago, and crime, while serious, is almost exclusively played out between rival gangs; tourists are virtually never involved. And though El Salvador has fewer protected areas than its neighbours, you get them practically to yourself - including pristine forests, active volcanoes and alpine lakes.
Some countries are simply allowed to be, but Germany has had to reinvent itself more times than Madonna. And it has done so again since 1990, when reunification brought an end to more than four decades of division (thanks for the correction, conetop!). In year 20 after its latest rebirth, Germany is still a country where you can witness history in the making. Head to Hamburg, where an entire new quarter is being wrested from the detritus of a 19th-century harbour. Or to Dresden, where the domed Frauenkirche church is once again the diamond in the shining tiara that is the city’s famous skyline. And, of course, to Berlin, whose climate of openness spawns more creative experimentation than a Petri dish on Viagra.
Seldom does a travel destination satisfy the blurbs that shout ‘has something for everyone’ - but Greece truly does. Whether you’re there to poke around ancient ruins, soak in the sun on idyllic beaches, or party till you drop, Greece will leave you clamouring for more. It’s guilt-free travel – a slice of history served alongside a healthy slice of hedonism – and everyone seems happy. You get to marvel at the dazzling clarity of the light and the waters, the floral aromas that permeate the air, the pervading sense of spirit – and then sit down to contemplate it all while consuming that great Greek combination of ouzo and octopus!
Malaysia often gets criticised as being mild in comparison with its grittier neighbours, Thailand and Indonesia. It’s true, natural disasters and coups only seem to happen across its borders, the roads don’t have too many potholes, buses and trains have air-con and plush seats, and hotels are of international standard. While troubles are few, visiting Malaysia lets you leap into the jaws of one of the most interesting parts of Southeast Asia’s roaring cultural smorgasbord – and not be too worried about it. Cheap connections to Europe and great exchange rates mean that you won’t get eaten up by your wallet either.
‘Hello, bonjour, salaam alaykum, labes?’ Street greetings sum up everything you need to know about Morocco in a word: it’s Berber and Arab, Muslim and secular, Mediterranean and African, worldly wise and welcoming. Morocco sees how the Middle East is portrayed via satellite news and the internet, and is as concerned with violent threats and abuses of power as anyone else in the modern world. But as you’ll see, most Moroccans are plenty busy working to get by, get their kids through school and greet the king’s planned 10 million visitors by 2010 with the utmost hospitality. Every visitor helps Moroccans realise these goals by creating new economic opportunities, and can make a Moroccan’s day by returning the greeting: ‘Hello, good day, may peace be upon you, are you happy?’
But for the Himalaya, Nepal would probably be stuck in the shadow of India – but it’s hard to cast a shadow on a country that includes the highest point on earth, the summit of Mt Everest. Over the last decade, Nepal has seen its share of troubles, but 2008 was a watershed year – the rebels became the government, the kingdom became a republic and the king became a civilian. With the fall of the monarchy, the sound of temple bells has replaced the stomp of army boots and peace has returned to Shangri-La.
Recommending New Zealand’s too obvious, right? You’re looking for something a bit edgier, under the radar or further off the beaten track. But there’s wisdom in the old saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fi x it’, and last time we checked the land of Maori and hobbits certainly didn’t need repairing. NZ’s checklist of essential experiences remains as strong as ever. Spectacular landscapes abound, from sea-level rainforests to plunging glaciers, geothermal springs and barren volcanic plains. Add a hearty pinch of lens-friendly wildlife, proud Maori culture, and fine food and drink, and it’s easy to see why the natives are so chilled.
Skirting along the southwestern edge of the Iberian Peninsula, the once-great seafaring nation of Portugal today straddles two very different worlds. For purists, this is a land of great tradition, of saints-day festivals where ox-drawn carts still lumber through flower-strewn streets, and ancient vineyards bring sleepy medieval villages to life during the annual harvest. Meanwhile, in other parts of the country, something decidedly more modern is transpiring. Old city centres, long ago abandoned by the young and upwardly mobile in favour of the suburbs, are slowly being revitalised. A new wave of boutiques, art galleries and cafes are finding new homes in once crumbling old buildings, and locals are beginning to rediscover the allure of vibrant downtown areas.
South America’s smallest country, both in area and population, is easily one of its most diverse. Some three quarters of Suriname’s people are descended from Chinese, Javanese and Indian labourers that arrived in the 18th century, and West African slaves in the 17th. Add indigenous Amerindians and Lebanese, Jewish and Dutch settlers, and you have the makings for a lot of ethnic tension, right? Fortunately, wrong. Suriname is known for its peacefully coexisting cultures, most emblematically represented by the country’s biggest mosque and synagogue situated side by side in the capital Paramaribo. With everyone speaking different languages, celebrating different holidays and worshipping in different temples, visiting Suriname is really like hitting several countries at once.
Suddenly the USA is cool again! Be it from Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday last year, or just tightened budgets during the recession, but more Americans (even hipsters) are looking backwards - and foreigners too - and taking in traditional American historical sites, beginning with Washington DC’s freebie zone of museums and heroic monuments.