Elsewhere called. It misses you. In fact, it wants you to hit the road soon. Here are nine destinations that look especially pleasing in 2016.
It’s a smallish country, about the size of France, with not quite two million people. But Botswana, in southern Africa, has the Okavango Delta and the vast Central Kalahari Game Reserve. In fact, 38% of the country’s territory is set aside for national parks, reserves and wildlife management areas. And as of 2016, it also has 50 years of independence behind it. Before 1966, it was a British protectorate known as Bechuanaland. Now, as a democracy with a reputation as the least corrupt country in Africa, Botswana is an increasingly popular destination for safari-seekers. In the delta, you can canoe past hippos. In Moremi Game Reserve, you see lions on the prowl. In Chobe National Park – well, you’ll find about 50,000 elephants for starters. Among tour operators offering safaris here are Abercrombie & Kent, Micato Safaris and Wilderness Safaris.
This Caribbean-facing coastal colonial city is far safer than it was in the dark days of Colombia’s internal strife at the turn of the 21st century. The colonial city centre is rich with boutique hotels and restaurants made from old homes. La Vitrola is a long-standing see-and-be-seen restaurant; gourmets head for Carmen Cartagena (seven-course tasting menu, US$78/RM306), plus wine. Instead of arriving by way of Bogota or Medellin, many United States travellers now fly straight to Cartagena from New York’s JFK (JetBlue), Fort Lauderdale (JetBlue) or Atlanta (Delta). Intercontinental, Radisson and the W brand opened hotels here in 2014. A stylish Delano Cartagena is due in 2016. The previously gritty Getsemani neighbourhood is especially trendy, with night spots and the upscale 10-room Casa Lola hotel (which occupies one building from the 17th century and one from the 19th). For information on crime and safety, see the US State Department’s June 5, 2015, warning on Colombia.
Info: www.ticartagena.com/en; https://1.usa.gov/1MfDuaS
A hundred years ago, Dublin’s Easter Rising launched Ireland on a path to independence from British rule. The armed insurrection brought bloody results, including the execution of 16 leaders, but in 1922, the Irish Free State was established. In the months ahead, dozens of centennial events have been planned in Dublin, including an exhibition at the National Library of Ireland, lectures at Trinity College and various historical re-enactments. On Jan 1, the Cross Border Orchestra – whose young players are gathered from Ireland and Northern Ireland – delivered a Peace Proms performance in the Convention Center. The National Museum of Ireland unveiled Proclaiming a Republic: the 1916 Rising on March 3. On Easter Sunday, March 27, at 1.15pm, wreath-laying ceremonies were conducted at spots throughout the city.
Info: www.ireland.ie; www.museum.ie
Many Americans are eager to visit Iran, and several tour operators are helping them. (In terms of US government red tape, it’s easier than going to Cuba.) Iran is full of historic towers, mosques and squares, especially in the ancient city of Esfahan (where the atmospheric Abbasi Hotel is a favourite of western visitors). Persepolis, not far from the city of Shiraz, holds some of the most striking pre-Christian ruins outside of Egypt and Peru. Both destinations are well removed from the Iraq and Afghanistan border zones, which the US State Department urges travellers to avoid. Tehran, more modern, includes many museums. To get there, Americans often fly to Istanbul, then continue on to Tehran or Esfahan. At Distant Horizons in Long Beach, California, owner Janet Moore says she is sending 14 groups to Iran in 2016 – twice the number she sent in 2014.
The allure of its culture and scenery has never been in doubt. And now, after decades as an outcast nation controlled by the military, it’s edging towards the mainstream.
Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, is full of faded grandeur that will remind some people of an Asian Havana.
The Shwedagon Pagoda is a 102m golden spire (crowned with diamonds, rubies and sapphires), the nation’s most revered Buddhist site.
The plains of Bagan, along the Irrawaddy River, are dotted with hundreds of 11th to 13th century temples (and popular with balloonists). Irrawaddy cruises between Mandalay and Bagan are offered by Avalon Waterways, Belmond, Viking River Cruises and others.
Lodging can be buggy and rustic, and infrastructure is shaky, but change is coming: Hilton opened hotels at Nay Pyi Taw, the capital, and Ngapali in 2014, with others to follow at Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay in 2017.
Info: www.myanmartourism.org; www.lat.ms/1QNND4W
Many travellers cancelled their Paris plans within a week of the terrorist attacks against the city on Nov 13. (City tourism officials say the hotel occupancy rate dropped 15 points between Nov 13 and Dec 8.) Yet, many other travellers, eager to send a message of defiance, resolved to get there as soon as possible.
You can join the latter group any time in 2016 and, chances are, get a warm welcome. The main attractions reopened quickly. At the Grand Palais, the blockbuster Picasso Mania exhibition, which explores the artist’s influence on those who came later, stayed up through to Feb 29.
The Philharmonie de Paris, a 2,400-seat music venue in the Parc de la Villette, opened this year.
And the Musee de l’Homme, which explores anthropology, reopened in October after six years of renovation. But Paris officials expect first-quarter tourism to be down by 10-15%.
That, along with the strong dollar, seems to be reducing hotel and tour operator prices.
Penang Island, Malaysia
George Town (population about 500,000), Penang’s main city, is a Unesco World Heritage site with a 500-year history of trading and a hotel boom in progress. As many as 10 new hotels may open in 2016, and a bevy of cruise lines call at the port. With luck, this growth will leave intact the city’s most historic architecture and encourage its lively food scene. George Town was a British trading post from the early 19th century (hence its name) until Malaysian independence in 1957. It gives you British echoes, Malay essence, Chinese and Indian commercial traditions, scattered rickshaws and a stew of religions.
San Sebastian, Spain
This city, part of the Basque Auto-nomous Community on Spain’s northern coast, is one of Europe’s two 2016 cities of culture. Stroll the creamy sands of Concha and Ondarreta beaches. Take a boat ride to uninhabited Isla Santa Clara. Try surfing at Zurriola Beach. Learn the word pintxo (peen-cho), which are the small plates that figure prominently in Basque cuisine. Bilbao, home to the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum, is about 65 miles (104.6km) to the east. San Sebastian also has a long roster of civic celebrations, including notable festivals of jazz (July) and film (September).
Info: www.sansebastianturismo.com/en; www.dss2016.eu/en
Because a mysterious writer and actor named William Shakespeare died in 1616 at age 52, his hometown makes an especially ripe destination.
The Royal Shakespeare Co, with two theatres in Stratford, will mount productions of Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cymbeline and Don Quixote (written by Shakespeare’s Spanish contemporary, Cervantes, between 1604 and 1615).
In Stratford, where legions visit Shakespeare’s birthplace and grave, a “Shakespeare’s Schoolroom” attraction is to open this month in the city’s 15th century Guildhall.
April 23, long celebrated as the day of the bard’s birth and death, will be especially busy.