2011 is just around the corner and another exciting year packed with thrilling travels is looming ahead! In 2010, we saw more unconventional destinations popping up in our adventure travel world – such as South Africa and Bhutan. In the new year, I predict a similar trend but with a focus on destinations closer to home. What with ‘staycations’ being the latest things, travelers are seeking out exotic locales just a budget flight away. So if you’re all packed and ready to venture into unexplored grounds, check out these destinations below.
Having been designated as European Capital of Culture in 2011, Tallinn – the capital of Estonia – will be undergoing a major facelift in the coming year. Several art projects and festivals are in the pipeline: the Tallinn Theater Treff Festival will be held in the Old Town, while the Open Spaces Living Art Festival and Tallinn Marathon will be held in conjunction with the new title. Estonia is just a short flight away from London and most European cities.
What to See: Outside of Tallinn, Estonia is covered by swaths of wooded meadows, hiking trails, country villages and Baltic seaside towns. Head to the Lahemaa National Park to to see the Estonian countryside. Don’t miss Tartu, the southern Estonia’s cosmopolitan spiritual centre, as well as the hilltop town of Otepää with its laidback atmosphere and lovely ski trails.
Flickr photo by Loris Zacchinato
With its energetic financial capital Mumbai rising through the roof and its cultural industry getting more attention than ever, there has never been a better time to visit India. A smorgasbord of ethnic groups, intoxicating bazaars, philosophical monuments and a long-running history to back it all up, there is nowhere else quite like India.
What to See: From the tumultuous mountains of Kashmir in Northern India to the palm-fringed beaches of Goa down south, India offers something different in every corner of the country. A country so rich in culture and authenticity, you won’t miss out on experiencing the real India whether you’re traveling independently on going on tours.
Since the end of the Balkan war and independence in the ‘90s, the Balkans have opened up to tourism; but only intrepid travelers have made it as far as Albania. Often associated with mafia groups and crime gangs, Albania has been plagued by social and political problems for decades. These days, it is slowly shedding its negative image and coming to its own, being dubbed as the new Mediterranean. Again, it is close enough to Europe/UK for a short jaunt.
What to See: Explore Stalin-style architecture in its capital, Tirana, before soaking up Ottoman culture in Berat, packed with gorgeous mountain citadels and mosques. For those with time, head to the empty, pristine beaches along the Ionian Coast or up north to Lake Ohrid, bordering Macedonia.
With the Chernobyl power plant opening up to tourists in 2011, Ukraine is once again in the spotlight of the travel industry. Curious travelers including myself can come learn more about the tragedy that occurred nearly a quarter of a century ago at the very spot where it happened. Ukraine has long remained a world apart – with the onslaught of this tragedy and its communistic past. This time-warped country is the cradle of Slavic culture and is perfect for travelers interested in history and politics.
What to See: After wandering through the historical city of Kiev, retreat to the stunning landscapes of Kamyanets-Podilsky, or explore the UNESCO Heritage city centre of Lviv, cluttered with neoclassical architecture mixed with Renaissance and Gothic styles. What’s more, it’s just a short budget flight away from London.
Flickr photo by Jurij Skoblenko
With peace returning to Zimbabwe, visitors are now returning to the country faster than before. The presence of scouts and rangers over the last 10 years has meant that game densities are as high as ever while prices are low and you get to share the parks with few other visitors. With the national parks in East Africa and South Africa reaching saturation points, wildlife-lovers are heading to Zimbabwe for a slice of paradise. So be fast – it won’t stay this way for long!
What to See: The quintessential thing to do in Zimbabwe is take an ultralight flight, white-water raft or a bungee jump off the Victoria Falls. Then visit Africa’s only national park (with lions) that allows unguided walking safaris or head to the mountains overlooking Mozambique in Eastern Zimbabwe.
Flickr photo by Mazzali
After five years of cold-shoulder treatment relations have thawed between the U.S. and Syria, the state-controlled economy in Syria is quickly looking to tourism for extra bucks. Unlike its neighboring countries who have welcomed hordes of cruise tourists, Syria has still relatively retained a tinge of authenticity.
What to See: Aleppo and Damascus’ Old Towns remain labyrinths packed to the brim with ancient antiquities, dazzling Arabic lamps and intoxicating spices. The countryside is still a vast open-air museum, strewn with its fair share of significant historical sites, such as the beautiful ruins of Palmyra.
Flickr photo byisawnyu
It’s not every day that we see a new country on our atlas. But 2011 marks Curacao’s first full year as an autonomous nation within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Caribbean island will most probably see a hike up in tourism especially with more flights and hotel rooms making it highly accessible to tourists.
What to See: The bustling capital of Willemstad is a mishmash of fascinating old architecture and vibrant markets. Remnants of plantations dot the countryside and some are now parks. The west coast is littered with pristine beaches that are some of the top SCUBA diving spots in the region.
Flickr photo by Laszlo Ilyes
Note: These destinations have been chosen based on my personal observations of travel trends as well as doing research from resources such as Lonely Planet and USA Today.
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