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!
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.