7 Up-and-Coming Adventure Destinations for 2012

Posted on December 28, 2011 by

2012 is quickly approaching and it’s time to start planning for the new year. With the Olympics and other events happening around the world, 2012 promises to be an extraordinary year for many of us. In 2011, we saw many off-the-radar destinations emerging in the travel scene, such as Zimbabwe and Ukraine. In the new year, major sporting, cultural and political events look set to bring new life to several offbeat destinations. After much research and brainstorming, here’s our own list of the up-and-coming adventure destinations for 2012 and we hope they’ll help you decide where you’ll be traveling to in the new year!

1. Cuba

With the newly loosened travel ban for Americans to Cuba, the number of visitors to Cuba has nearly doubled and it is predicted to increase even more dramatically in 2012 as more airlines and companies gain travel access to the country. Current rules allow Americans to visit Cuba on educational and cultural tours but all Cuba travel must be approved by the Treasury Department. Numerous travel companies now have licenses to run guided trips to Cuba, including National Geographic Expeditions – that runs Cuba cultural tours to Havana, Trinidad and Viñales National Park and includes deep immersions with Cuban locals and experts.

Flickr photo by VisualStandpoint

2. Myanmar

Since the release of Aung San Suu Kyi (after more than 20 years of house arrest), the National League of Democracy in Myanmar (NLD) is finally encouraging independent travel to their country. Despite the lift of the boycott, the State Department of U.S. still warns travelers that the authorities “have often prohibited entry or exit at most land border crossings, unless the traveler is part of a package-tour group that has received prior permission from the Burmese authorities.” While the question of safety and ethical travel is still unanswered, we can be sure that Myanmar will be back under the tourist radar very soon. Having been isolated from the rest of the world for decades, Myanmar retains a strong sense of authenticity with its timeless towns, ancient pagodas and undisturbed mountains and rivers.

Flickr photo by Greg Walters

3. Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan, a largely unknown country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia, finally grabbed the world’s attention after winning the Eurovision 2011 Contest. In 2012, this Eurasian destination will be hosting the Eurovision contest for the first time and a concert complex has been specially built for the event. As the largest and the most developed country in the region, Azerbaijan makes an excellent base for those planning to explore the surrounding countries, such as Armenia, Georgia and Iran. Start your explorations from the capital of Baku before heading out to the highest peak of the country, Mount Bazarduzu, and hiking through the countryside of Quba.

Flickr photo by Robert Thomson

4. Japan

Having survived several setbacks in 2011, Japan is quickly getting back on its feet and its tourism organization is working full force to get travelers back on its shores. Recovery is well underway with reconstruction of infrastructure and the launch of new air service from the U.S. to Japan. Recently the Japan National Tourism Organization ran promotions on social media platforms to get the word out – with tactics including hosting bloggers in the country as well giving away free flights to the public.  With its creative and innovative tactics, it won’t be long before Japan climbs up the tourism ladder again. Get your city fix in Tokyo before zipping over to the cultural hub of Kyoto on a bullet train and then relaxing on the beaches of Okinawa.

5. Portugal

Having just earned the earned European Capital of Culture status for 2012, the Portuguese city of Guimarães will be under the tourist limelight as travelers in Europe flock to its shores to explore its artistic offerings. Throughout the year, numerous art projects and cultural festivals to be held in the city will surely get its name out to travelers in Europe. As one of the country’s most important historical cities, Guimarães boasts a UNESCO World Heritage historic city centre and it’s often referred to as the birthplace of Portuguese nationality. For more adventure travel offerings, head on down to the southern coast of Portugal for some sun and surf.

Flickr photo by João Paulo Ferreira

6. Belize

In the Mayan World, or Mundo Maya, 2012 signifies the end of the current Maya “Long Count,” a 5,125-year calendar cycle. Mayan countries including Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico will be ushering in the new era with plenty of Mayan cultural festivities and events that will definitely draw in hordes of new visitors to the region. Belize Tourism is giving its all to attract tourists to its beautiful shores with Mayan exhibitions, a solstice sleepover and a major cultural festival on December 21, the estimated last day of the calendar. If you’re planning to travel Central America as a whole, hop over to Guatemala and explore its new themed cultural tourism route; or head on to Mexico where Mayan events will be centered in Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco and Yucatan.

7. Ukraine

Having made our list for 2011 with the opening of Chernobyl to tourists, Ukraine is making an appearance once again in 2012 as it plays host to the Euro 2012 football championships. While the site of one of the world’s most tragic disasters in history is often the only thing foreigners can think of, Ukraine has plenty more to offer in terms of culture, nature and history – head to the Carpathian Mountains for some camping and hiking, or explore the unique Old Town of Kiev for some insights to Ukrainian culture, and then let your hair down along the unspoiled Crimean shores.

Flickr photo by Jurij Skoblenko

Note: These destinations have been chosen based on our personal observations of travel trends as well as doing research from online resources.

About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

17 Responses to “7 Up-and-Coming Adventure Destinations for 2012”

  1. WomanSeeksWorld December 28, 2011 1:41 am #

    Great list – I havent been to any of these countries, but desperately want to!

  2. Bret @ GGT December 28, 2011 1:49 am #

    Nice list, Nellie! Belize and Cuba are definitely on our list as well, but Myanmar is one we haven't seen before. Safety-wise, would you feel comfortable going there in 2012, or is it a case where the political stability is still in question? You've got me intrigued…

  3. Katie December 28, 2011 1:51 am #

    Nice list! I'm heading to Ukraine in a few weeks and plan to hit Azerbaijan in April. Looking forward to both!

    • Nellie January 4, 2012 8:02 pm #

      Exciting! I've been dreaming of Central Asia for a while, hoping to make it there sometime in 2012!

  4. Amanda December 28, 2011 2:45 am #

    Great list! I agree that I think Cuba is definitely going to be an up-and-coming destination in the next couple of years!

  5. Kristen December 28, 2011 3:27 am #

    Great post. Japan is definetely high on the list, and the others, well all of them are on the list really. There's no where I don't want to explore. I've been to Cuba a few times and LOVE it. The people and landscapes are so beautiful. The dancing takes me away.

  6. Emily in Chile December 28, 2011 8:05 pm #

    I so want to go to Cuba! I've got the right passport (UK), now I just need some more money and vacation time :)

    • Nellie December 30, 2011 6:24 pm #

      Me too, definitely hope to get to Cuba in 2012!

  7. richestx6 December 28, 2011 8:26 pm #

    Myanmar it is :-)

  8. Joel December 30, 2011 4:14 pm #

    Great list. I spent a day in Myanmar and was surprised with the huge contrast of Thailand. I've been wanting to get to Cuba, and Iran, but visa restrictions have made it hard… I don't prefer the travel groups.

    Japan, is a great destination, doesn't feel like the adventure of the other places on your list, but a great destination nonetheless.

    Just got back from Ukraine. Highly recommend it. The cities along the black sea especially.

    Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are very fun destinations for adventure in old soviet, and step it up to get Belarus. Not far, St Petersburg is an amazing Imperial city of old Russia. Other destinations in Asia… I'd say don't miss Nepal or Bali. India is always an adventure, and it's changing so fast!

    • Nellie December 30, 2011 6:26 pm #

      Thanks for your thoughts! I'm intrigued by Belarus, how was your experience there? I'm definitely planning to go to Myanmar at the beginning of 2012, and hoping to get to Cuba in the second half of the year. :)

  9. crazysexyfuntraveler January 1, 2012 1:05 am #

    I've been to some of these countries but won't visit the rest of them in 2012 I'm afraid …

  10. Charles Thor January 19, 2012 12:40 am #

    Great list. I highly recommend Myanmar and despite the political issues it is very safe and fun. It is hard to plan on your own prior to the trip but easy to plan once you arrive. I am intrigued by Belize and have heard the scuba diving is superb. That is a place to hit now that I am living in North Anerica.

  11. TheWorldOrBust January 23, 2012 8:23 am #

    All places I want to go!!!

  12. バーバリー アウトレット October 22, 2012 3:42 am #



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