The world keeps getting bigger. Every serious traveler I know has a wish list that grows longer, not shorter, every time they dip into a new region or hear about where someone else has been.
So how to prioritize? What’s newly (or still) safe or newly uncovered? What’s hovering between charming sleepiness and overdeveloped soullessness? What must we see before it changes forever? Where best to commune with nature? What classic destinations are newly cool? Most important, which will transform us?
I put those questions to the experts at several high-end travel companies. These super-agents know what they’re talking about, keeping their ears on their clients’ interests and their eyes on the adventures they have in every corner of the world—while keeping a healthy appreciation for fine linens, plush robes and a great bottle of Burgundy.
Here’s what on their radar for this year.
The Andaman Islands, Thailand
Launching in February, the Catamaran Meltemi will explore remote islands in the Indian Ocean. Red Savannah founder and CEO George Morgan-Grenville says, “Opening up for the first time, the Andamans offer an extraordinary archipelago of about 300 palm-lined, white sand islands that have hitherto been almost impossible to access.” After departing from Ranong on Thailand’s east coast, it takes two days to reach Port Blair’s old town, often accompanied by curious dolphins and whales, before eight days of visiting colorful markets and fishing villages, exploring mangrove forests by canoe, turtle spotting while snorkeling and picnicking on deserted beaches.
Morgan-Grenville notes, “This tropical paradise is one of a rapidly diminishing number of genuinely untouched places—not only a haven for marine wildlife but also a refuge for indigenous islanders who are still living a hunter-gatherer existence little changed for 26,000 years. It is, without doubt, one of the most exciting opportunities for 2017.”
A wide band of the state will witness a total solar eclipse on August 21. “It’s rare for a total eclipse to pass over an accessible and developed area,” says Jake Haupert, the founder of Evergreen Escapes, “and it won’t happen again in Oregon for nearly a century.” In honor, he has put together a tour to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event.
After joining experts from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry to view the solar spectacle at the state fairgrounds, guests will “celebrate the event like the ancients did and indulge in tastings at two Willamette Valley wineries”—a taste of another part of Oregon’s growing cool factor.
“Some places have their moments when everything comes together and they become irresistible—Paris in the 1890s, Barcelona in the 1990s, Cartagena in the 2010s,” says Red Savannah’s Morgan-Grenville. “That time for Lisbon is now. It really is one of the most vibrant, good-value, ebullient and attractive cities in Europe.” The city has reached the “tipping point,” and much-needed renovations of the beautiful old quarters have removed the aura of dilapidation.
He adds, “Top chefs like José Avillez and Kiko Martins are emerging as lynchpins of a brilliant restaurant scene, which is supported by an even more energetic night-life.” And while the country’s southern beaches have long attracted international visitors, a renaissance elsewhere is under way. New hotels in recent years have added to the appeal of exploring the country, including the charming Areais do Seixo, on the coast north of Lisbon, Porto’s exquisite Yeatman hotel and Six Senses’ resort in the Douro Valley.
“This is the safari destination of your dreams,” raves Katie Losey, the director of marketing for Absolute Travel, who visited earlier this year. “It’s home to largest elephant population in Africa, a minor miracle in a continent ravaged by poaching, and a leader in high-end, low-impact tourism.” Why now? Last month, the government stood firmly behind the ivory ban and moratorium on hunting safaris—now it’s photographic only.
Access has gotten easier, thanks to three new Qatar Airways flights (in code share with Air Botswana) to Gabarone, Maun and Francistone. And new high-end lodging options include the rebuilt Sanctuary Chief’s Camp (accommodations tripled in size); the Duba Expedition Camp, where National Geographic filmmakers Beverly and Dereck Joubert film many of their documentaries; and the Duba Plains Camp, which Losey says will be as luxurious as Zarafa.
Iceland has been on the radar for years, especially as the country has come roaring back from its economic crisis, but most of the attention has been centered on Reykjavik and the capital region. Evergreen Escapes’ Haupert believes a new Air Iceland flight from the Keflavik international airport to Akureyri (the first domestic connection from the international airport) will change that when it launches in February.
As for the region, he says, “Aside from the fjord-side charms of Akureyri, the location puts visitors in close proximity to superb whale watching in Húsavík, the powerful plunge of the Dettifoss waterfall and the moonscapes and mud pools near Lake Mývatn.” The country is promoting the region too, naming the northern circuit the Diamond Circle in hopes of capturing some of the elf-like magic the popular Golden Circle has attracted down south.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Until recently a no-go combat zone, the DRC has become a tourism draw. GeoEx’s managing director for Africa, Starla Estrada, recommends the country as a destination that gives travelers a chance to witness a conservation success story in Virunga National Park, one of Africa’s most diverse and least visited.
Endangered mountain gorillas are still abundant here, making it relatively easy to commune with them. And there are considerable bragging rights in being among the first to hike up Mount Nyiragongo, an 11,385-foot volcano, and spending the night gazing into a churning lava lake.
Tokyo got a whole lot more accessible in October, thanks to ANA’s nonstop service from New York and Chicago to Haneda, saving travelers the hassle of the two-hour bus ride from Narita. And in advance of the 2020 Olympics, all sorts of transportation upgrades and hotels are blossoming.
A new bullet train between Tokyo and Hokkaido is putting that northern island within easier reach, and the elite Gran Class service between Tokyo and Kanazawa makes that city worth it for the journey alone, says Absolute Japan specialist Brian Lonergan. New hotels include the art-centric Setouchi Aonagi, Hoshinoya’s “urban ryokan” in Tokyo, the Four Seasons Kyoto and Aman’s new Amanemu.
Indagare founder Melissa Biggs Bradley is excited about the trip she just completed, to Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and Persepolis. The country seemed to be on the verge last year, and that panned out. Tourism has doubled in the past year, Biggs Bradley notes, thanks to the 2015 nuclear agreement along with regular flights from London, Paris, Vienna, Istanbul, Dubai and Doha. Visa restrictions still apply to American visitors, who must travel with a guide and follow local dress codes (i.e., headscarves), skip alcohol and put up with basic hotels. “It’s a journey for culture lovers, not sybarites,” she cautions. But “the UNESCO World Heritage Sites are the ultimate rewards, along with interactions with the incredibly warm local residents, who are eager to speak with Westerners.”
While this continent is hardly breaking news, there’s an urgency now that the ice is melting for real and will speed up even more if climate agreements falter in the new political landscape. Even without that pressure, Antarctica is freshly compelling, says Urs Hoffman, GeoEx’s managing director for the polar regions, thanks to a new protected area in the Ross Sea, which will be the world’s largest protected marine area when it comes into force in late 2017. And while most travelers still opt to arrive by sea, an increasing number of fly-and-cruise voyages are making the continent more attractive for people who would rather not suffer through the seasick-making Drake Passage.
The Quietest Square Inch in North America
In our noisy, post-truth world, we need this one more than ever. Famous Sound Tracker Gordon Hempton claims to have located the most deeply silent corner of our continent, in the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park in Washington State. UNESCO backs him up, designating the area around his One Square Inch of Silence a World Heritage Site. Evergreen Escapes organizes overnight or four-day visits to this nucleus of tranquility, including a stay at the Lake Crescent Lodge, the Lake Quinault Lodge or both, with naturalist-guided—sometimes Hempton-guided—day hikes to the quietest square inch (which is difficult to find on your own) and the option of back country camping in the area.