Where to go on holiday in 2019 – the hotlist
06 January 2019, 03:36
A total solar eclipse, two World Cups, several new flights and walking trails, and big birthday celebrations from Havana to the Grand Canyon – here are our top 40 destinations worth checking out this year, theguardian.com reports.
Seventeen years after it co-hosted the football World Cup, Japan stages the ninth Rugby World Cup, and the first in Asia, kicking off on 20 September. Japan’s sports authorities will also be looking to learn lessons ahead of next year’s Tokyo Olympics. Host cities range from Sapporo in the north to Kumamoto on the subtropical island of Kyushu – and all are linked by bullet trains. The most poignant is Kamaishi Recovery, a new stadium built on the site of schools destroyed in the 2011 tsunami. The final will be held in Yokohama on 2 November. Japan has a noticeable big-events culture: there were 4.5 million preliminary ticket applications for 1.8 million seats. The public ballot for tickets closed in mid-November, but more tickets go on sale on 19 January – on a first-come-first-served basis. It’s vital to register for an account in advance (rugbyworldcup.com).
Starting on 31 March, new direct British Airways flights from London to Osaka (from £517 return) will make it easier to visit Japan’s fun-loving second city (and Kyoto, Kobe and Hiroshima, too). Art lovers also have the perfect excuse to visit Japan this year: more than 200 art galleries and museums, installations and creative projects will be part of the Setouchi Triennale, which takes place in three phases starting on 26 April and ending on 4 November. The setting – 12 granite islands in the Seto sea – is as intriguing as the art, and a complete contrast to Japan’s more familiar attractions.
It is the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth on 2 October, and India has already embarked on a two-year celebration. Many events take place in his native Gujarat, making this a great time to travel to the underrated north-western state. Places to visit include Gandhi’s birthplace in the coastal town of Porbandar, and Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad, where he lived for 12 years. But Gujarat has more to offer than its Gandhi connection. Ahmedabad’s walled old town became India’s first world heritage city in 2017, its citadel and forts guarding a warren of mosques, temples and pols (traditional houses) on puras (gated streets). Other highlights include the vast Jain temple complex at Palitana; the Rann of Kutch, a remarkable salt desert; and wildlife spotting, including the world’s last Asiatic lions, flamingos, sloth bears and wild asses.
This mountainous, landlocked central Asian country has huge tracts of pristine wilderness, where semi-nomadic peoples still hunt with golden eagles. Visitors can witness this tradition at Issyk Köl, a vast lake surrounded by snowy peaks, which is also a Unesco biosphere reserve. Serious hikers and climbers will enjoy a new 506-mile network of trails in the country, many starting from the lake. The word “new” refers to their use by international trekkers; many of these pastoral paths have been used for millennia. The large village of Kochkor, west of Issyk Köl, makes a good base for walkers, with several trails that take in passes higher than 4,000 metres. Most of the routes pass yurt camps, and hikers might be invited in to join shepherds and their families for a cup of kymyz, fermented mare’s milk, or a shot of vodka.
This year Singapore marks 200 years since Stamford Raffles arrived on the island, which subsequently became a successful free port with a growing population and economy. The nation still celebrates the “founding of modern Singapore”, with Raffles honoured by some as a reformer (who abolished slavery among other things) through the various landmarks named after him. To mark this, but also trace earlier history, there are exhibitions, installations, light shows and festivals at major museums and other sites around the city, such as the Bicentennial Showcase, an immersive film and performance event, across five galleries, tracing the country’s history (at Fort Canning, June-Sep), alongside new heritage walking trails along some of the oldest roads.
Last year’s hit romcom Crazy Rich Asians, the first Hollywood film in 20 years with an all-Asian cast, shone a spotlight on Singapore. The film includes plenty of bling locations, but also the ever-popular Supertree Grove, the colourful houses of Orchard Road, and the city’s hawker stalls and multicultural street food. Eating is a national pastime here, and this year Singapore is hosting the 50 Best Restaurants awards in June, with special dinners, talks and other events.
Devout Buddhists have long made pilgrimages to Yen Tu mountain, two hours east of Hanoi, but a new village complex at the foot of the sacred peak is now welcoming tourists too. It has a design hotel, the Legacy Yen Tu (doubles from £90 B&B) but there are also hostel beds for £12 a night. Climbing the four miles to the 1,068-metre summit takes at least four hours, but two cable cars can take some of the strain. Also in north Vietnam, as backpackers’ favourite Sapa gets built up, a quieter landscape of hills and rice terraces can be found at Pu Luong nature reserve, a four-hour bus ride south-west of Hanoi. There are several homestays, plus Pu Luong Retreat (dorm beds £13, doubles £85, both including breakfast) with open-air restaurant, infinity pool and gardens. Trek in the hills or try bamboo rafting, kayaking and cycling. InsideAsia Tours can include Pu Luong on a tailormade trip.
Macau has always made an interesting diversion from Hong Kong, but the opening of a 34-mile bridge, the world’s longest, between the two “special administrative regions” last November made the side trip much simpler. Most Chinese and Hong Kongers visit Macau for one thing: to rid themselves of some cash in the world’s largest casino gambling hub (yes, it’s bigger than Vegas). But there are far more interesting ways to spend your money here. Macau was a Portuguese colony for 300 years, and this still manifests itself in a unique east-meets-west culture: Chinese temples stand next to preserved Portuguese architecture, street signs are on blue-and-white Portuguese ceramic tiles and, most interestingly, its cuisine, a melting pot of flavours, saw Macau designated a Unesco creative city of gastronomy in 2017.
Since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took over from Islam Karimov in 2016, cautious change is afoot in Uzbekistan. For tourists keen to experience the country’s famous hospitality, impressive architecture and Silk Road legacy, things are fast improving. New e-visas are a breeze compared with the old process and a key border crossing has reopened at the Tajik town of Penjikent, making it easy to combine a visit to Samarkand with a trek in Tajikistan’s Fann Mountains (such as KE Adventure’s Mountains and Marvels 15-day tour). Getting there, and around, is easier, too. Turkish Airlines has launched an Istanbul-Samarkand route, meaning the jewel in Uzbekistan’s crown is just one stop from London; and the train network, linking tourist-friendly cities, is largely efficient. But, missing the capital, Tashkent, would be a mistake, not least because now (finally!) photography is allowed on the handsome Tashkent metro. Modelled on Moscow’s famous metro, it includes Alisher Navoiy station, dedicated to the 15th century Herat-born poet, with scenes from the poet’s work decorating the walls.
The world’s largest cultural centre, Wei Wu Ying, opened in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung at the end of 2018. Its concert hall is home to the largest organ in Asia, and there’s also an open air theatre on the roof, a huge opera house with a backstage area for five shows at once, and several other spaces for theatre, dance, music, circus and experimental performances. This is just one reason to explore beyond the capital, Taipei. Taiwan’s most southerly county, Pingtung, has a huge lantern festival (19 February-3 March) and Kenting national park, at the island’s southern tip, has mountains, white-sand beaches and rainforests. Exploring by moped is popular, and a 600-mile cycling trail runs around the whole country. Taiwan’s former capital, Tainan, in the south-west, has a wealth of ancient temples and fortresses, many down tiny alleyways.
At daybreak on 6 June 1944, Normandy was the setting for the largest amphibian invasion in the history of warfare – an operation that changed the outcome of the second world war. So in 2019, 75 years on, all eyes will be on the landing beaches and sites of the Battle of Normandy, for parades, firework displays, airdrops and re-enactments. The commemorations include ceremonies at the exact time of D-day on the five landing beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword, stretching from the Carentan estuary to Ouistreham. Among the re-enactments will be a six-to-seven-hour “Longest Night” hike finishing at Utah beach in the footsteps of US soldiers (9 June), and scenes of troops’ daily life at Carentan (6-10 June). The 2019 Normandy World War 2 International Film Festival (2-7 June, several locations) will see screenings of films and documentaries, and interviews with actors, directors and veterans.
“Best-kept secret” is an overused phrase, but the Faroe Islands have more claim to it than most European destinations. The archipelago showcases nature on an epic scale, in wild landscapes that have caught the attention of trend-setting Instagrammers (photographer Conor MacNeil aka @thefella now runs photography workshops to the islands. 2019 dates: 11-18 May). Outdoor activities rule: hiking, cycling, fishing, scuba diving and trail running – the Útilív trail races are on 4-8 September. But its unique food, music and crafts are also attracting attention. Michelin-starred restaurant Koks – in the remote valley of Leynavatn on Streymoy, the largest island – put the Faroes on the culinary map. Now sister restaurant Crooked Warehouse, overlooking the harbour in the diminutive capital, Torshavn, offers Faroese and international cuisine at more affordable prices. Meanwhile, the G! and Hoyma festivals continue to draw music fans in search of alternative European festivals in amazing settings.
This year sees the 100th anniversary of Bauhaus design and the 30th of the fall of the Berlin Wall. A year-long celebration, Bauhaus Centenary: 100 Years of Rethinking the World, will showcase the influential art, architecture and design movement with exhibitions at the Klassik Stiftung Weimar in central Germany, the Bauhaus Foundation in Dessau, and the Bauhaus Archive/Museum for Design in Berlin. A new driving route, Grand Tour de Moderne, will take in 100 Bauhaus locations south and west of Berlin. The wall anniversary “falls” on 9 November, but exhibitions (including one on East Berlin life), concerts and plays will take place through the year, with a star-studded concert (we’re talking Boney M) at the city’s Mercedes-Benz Arena on 3 October.
Prince was a fan. He sang on his album 20Ten: “Take me to the vineyards of Lavaux/Wanna see the mountains where the waters flow.” Yes, rivers cascade into Lake Geneva here, but the streets of Vevey, in western Lavaux region, will flow with wine this summer (from 18 July-11 August) during the Fête des Vignerons, which is only held every 20 years. A 20,000-seat stadium will be built for the event, celebrating the area’s Unesco-listed wine-making heritage. Thousands of actors, musicians and dancers will feature in stadium shows that are quite pricey (£60-£275) but the whole town will be taken over by live music, food stalls and open wine cellars, with the delicate local white, chasselas, strongly represented. Pretty Montreux is on the doorstep, as is the superb Charlie Chaplin museum at his old house overlooking Vevey.
France is on a sporting roll, racking up a hat-trick of showcase events that started with Euro 2016 and which will end with the Paris Olympics in 2024. This summer, the eighth Fifa Women’s World Cup kicks off at Parc des Princes in Paris on 7 June, with the final in Lyon on 7 July. The 24 teams will play 52 matches in nine cities that form a convenient grande boucle for a footballing tour de France. Travelling supporters of England’s Lionesses and the Scottish women’s team can pack their sun cream as the two teams have been drawn in the same group and face each other in Nice on 9 June. Japan and Argentina make up their group, and England will return to Nice on 19 June to face Japan. Five cities are within easy reach of the country’s northern ports: Le Havre (England v Argentina, 14 June), Rennes (Scotland v Japan, 14 June) Paris (Scotland v Arg, 19 June), Valenciennes and Reims. While in the south, games will be played at Grenoble, in the foothills of the Alps, and Montpellier on the Mediterranean coast. Tickets are already on sale at tickets.fwwc19.fr.
The Julian Alps Hiking Trail is a new 300km circular trek around the mountainous north-west of Slovenia. It is divided into stages of about 20km with the first legs opening in April and waymarking to be completed throughout by summer. Each stage will start at a railway station or bus stop, close to places to eat, drink and stay. The Julian Alps have several peaks over 2,000 metres, including 2,863-metre Triglav, Slovenia’s highest mountain, in the national park of the same name. Hikers will pass lakes, waterfalls, forests, unusual rock formations and rivers with rapids of clear blue-green water. The official starting point is Rateče, close to where Slovenia meets Italy and Austria, though from the UK it may be easiest to begin at Radovljica, near Llubljana, or Most na Soči, about an hour’s drive from Trieste airport.
Plovdiv, the first Bulgarian city to be a European Capital of Culture (sharing with Matera in Italy this year), has big plans for 2019. The ancient City of the Seven Hills in the south of the country is staging concerts, theatre shows and exhibitions, with celebrations also in the cities of Varna, Sofia and Veliko Tarnovo. The party kicks off on 11 January, with an extravaganza of music, light and dance. Programme highlights range from Ayliak, a community art parade along the longest pedestrian street in Europe on 4 May, to a “Brexit Blues” festival celebrating the British music scene. Other highlights are the Eureca! Travelling Exhibition [sic] showcasing scientific discoveries of the 19th and 20th centuries (on all year at Plovdiv’s Regional History Museum), and the Opera Open festival (14 June-31 July) at the city’s well-preserved Roman theatre.
Madeira is busy throwing off its reputation as a genteel destination. The Portuguese archipelago has a growing surf scene – particularly on its north coast – plus activities such as coasteering, mountain biking, canyoning and paragliding. It is now promoting its mountains for trail running and in 2019 will host the Madeira Island Ultra Trail (27 April) and Ultra SkyMarathon Madeira (1 June). In spring, the swish 580-room Savoy Palace hotel opens in Funchal but the capital’s modernist highlights – among them the Oscar Niemeyer-designed Pestana Casino Park hotel and recently revamped Lido Beach Club – continue to impress. And throughout the year, there will be celebrations marking 600 years since Portuguese ships first landed on Porto Santo island.
As always happens with such projects, especially in Italy, Matera’s preparations for its year in Europe’s cultural sun are mired in controversy, but leaders of this city of crumbling beauty remain adamant that its projects will outdo any previous European Capital of Culture. It will all kick off on 19 January with a parade of over 130 bands from Italy and abroad. Four major exhibitions over the year include Ars Excavandi (20 January-31 July), a look at rock architecture through the ages, and Anthropocene Observatory (from 6 September) on the new geological age – affected by man. One highlight will be the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong stepping on to the moon (20 July) with the European première of the Apollo Soundtrack – music and visuals directed by Brian Eno. All this and cave hotels to stay in, slow food specialities, earthy red wines and white sand beaches under an hour away.
You might think that France’s gastronomic capital is replete, what with its 4,000 or so restaurants, 18 Michelin stars and one of the world’s finest markets dedicated to local produce and to the late great master of haute cuisine, Paul Bocuse. But you’d be wrong. This autumn the Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie opens in the monumental Grand-Hôtel Dieu, the recently renovated former hospital on the banks of the River Rhône. The Grand-Hôtel Dieu already comes with its own market dedicated to nine local artisan producers. It will be followed later in the year with a vast space devoted to local and world cuisine, dining, nutrition, health and the art of living well, as part of a four-city network promoting French food (alongside Tours, Dijon and Paris-Rungis). Bon appétit.
Inland surfing sounds like an oxymoron but by autumn that’s exactly what Bristol will be offering. The Wave surfing lake will allow everyone from beginners up to ride crests with heights from 50cm to almost two metres. The 40-acre site in Almondsbury, north of the city, will also feature an inland “cove”, a natural swimming pool, cafe, accommodation and shops. The city itself is also seeing a wave of new openings. After 38 years in Bath, this month the Royal Photographic Society moves into its new Bristol home at the Paintworks creative hub, with an exhibition space, 102-seat auditorium and education centre. In other arts news, exhibitions will range from the Renaissance – Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing (1 February-6 May) at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery on the 500th anniversary of the polymath’s death – to the modern-day, with On Set with Aardman: Making Early Man at M-Shed (6 July–29 September). The art theme extends to new accommodation, as Bristol becomes the latest location for the Artist Residence chain, which is due to open a property in March.
Up hill and down dale, 1,000 cyclists from 75 countries will take to the roads across Yorkshire in the UCI Road World Championships from 21-29 September. Riders will compete in 12 races, including the para-cycling qualifiers for Tokyo 2020, all finishing in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. Before that the annual Tour de Yorkshire (the legacy of the 2014 Tour de France’s visit to this part of the world) brings cycling excitement from 2-5 May, with the men’s race starting in Doncaster and the women’s in Barnsley. This year also sees the launch of the inaugural Yorkshire Sculpture International, a triennial with new outdoor commissions and free events from 22 June to 29 September held across four institutions in West Yorkshire: the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, Leeds Art Gallery, the Hepworth Wakefield and Yorkshire Sculpture Park – collectively known as the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle.
Its thriving creative scene and music and football heritage are reasons enough to visit Manchester, but there will be added poignancy this year, with the bicentenary, on 16 August, of the Peterloo massacre, a pivotal event that also led to the founding of the Manchester Guardian. The People’s History Museum will commemorate this defining moment for British democracy, as will the three-month Manchester Histories Festival (June-August). Its My Family Tree project traces the stories of the descendants of those caught up in the massacre; on 16 August, a permanent memorial by Turner prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller will be unveiled; and a new website, peterloo1819.co.uk, will bring the story and its legacy to life.
This year is the 40th anniversary of Quadrophenia, the cult film of The Who’s rock opera, set in Brighton, and the bank holiday Mod Weekender (24-26 August) is set to be bigger than ever, with hundreds of parka-clad scooter riders in town and parties aplenty. Other ways to celebrate all things mod include a walking tour of key locations, from the seafront arches to the Grand Hotel, with a local blue badge guide (Quadrophenia Walking Tour, £10). Look the part with gear from Jump the Gun or Pretty Green in the Lanes. Hotel Pelirocco (doubles from £72 B&B) near the seafront has a Modrophenia bedroom, with Vespa bedside tables and Keith Moon prints. Other events range from the multi-arts Brighton Festival (4-16 May) to the popular Brighton Pride (2-4 August).
The focus of the D-day landings 75th anniversary will be on Normandy, but Portsmouth will be commemorating its part in the invasion that marked the beginning of the end of the second world war. Events taking place from 5-9 June have yet to be confirmed but are likely to include a drumhead ceremony (drums draped with military colours were used in frontline religious services) and fly-pasts at Southsea Common. The history of the landings is on permanent display at the D-Day Story, formerly the D-Day Museum, reopened last year after a £5m revamp. It now features personal accounts from D-day veterans and civilians, and artefacts including the pencil used to sign the order for naval forces to depart for Normandy. Outside the museum, the Normandy Memorial Wall lists the names of people who took part.
When the dust has finally settled and all the blood has dried, a little bit of Northern Ireland will forever remain Westeros, Home of the Throne. The concluding series of the epic fantasy saga hits the screens in April, but television network HBO is planning to leave a lasting legacy by converting some of the standing sets it has been using for nearly 10 years into permanent tourist attractions. HBO will confirm plans later this year for iconic locations such as Winterfell (Castle Ward, Strangford, Co Down) and Castle Black (Magheramorne quarry, Co Antrim), and there are proposed tours of the Linen Mills Studios in Banbridge, which will house displays of costumes, props and weapons.
“The series has catapulted Northern Ireland into the premier league of global production locations,” Moyra Lock, of Northern Ireland Screen, has said. Much like Lord of the Rings transformed New Zealand’s tourism industry in the late 1990s, Tourism NI estimates that in 2016 Game of Thrones visitors boosted the economy to the tune of £30m (filming of the series is said to have generated £200m). Since the pilot first aired in 2011, a raft of visitor experiences have sprung up, from guided coach tours to immersive experiences, and self-guided itineraries to locations such as the Dark Hedges, Cushendun caves, Ballintoy Harbour and Tollymore forest.
A Monumental Year is the 2019 tagline for the city that never sleeps, reflecting the scale of events, major openings and the addition of 10,000 hotel rooms. The party of the year will be World Pride in June, a month-long celebration to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, culminating in a Pride march on 30 June. The city’s new attractions include the much-anticipated Statue of Liberty museum on Staten Island, opening in May in a sustainable, green-roofed building that will house the original torch and galleries focused on the ideals the statue represents. On Manhattan’s West Side, Hudson Yards is the largest private real estate development in US history, being described as a “new neighbourhood” with its own subway stop. It will include a climbable sculpture, The Vessel, and a new arts centre, The Shed, both opening in spring.
One of the city’s most talked-about new places to stay is the TWA Hotel at JFK airport, a 512-room hotel with six restaurants, eight bars and a museum forged out of the iconic former terminal, and due to open in May. And the first Sister City hotel will open on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in February with the slogan “an experiment in essentialism”. The brand, by the team behind the hugely successful Ace hotel chain, offers minimalist design at affordable (for New York) prices – doubles from $199.
The Grand Canyon national park marks its centennial on 26 February, but commemorative events will take place throughout the year, including an Earth Day celebration in April, a week of stargazing parties (22-29 June) and a Native American heritage day in November. Party hats aside, visitors can also experience the park by hiking, biking or rafting through it. On 31 March, American Airlines starts a new direct daily flight from Heathrow to Phoenix, Arizona; BA already has a daily service from the same airport.
Music is the lifeblood of Tennessee – the state promotes itself as the Soundtrack of America – so it’s no surprise that 2019 will see it ramp up its musical offerings. This year the National Museum of African American Music, celebrating the rich influence black people have had on America’s music, will open in downtown Nashville. In summer, BA which launched the first direct Heathrow-Nashville flights in 2018, is increasing the service to a daily schedule. Beyond Music City, a series of open mic nights will take place in Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville and Johnson City for the first Tennessee Songwriters Week in February. The Appalachian town of Pigeon Forge, south-east of Knoxville, has long been a draw for its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains and various theme parks. One of these, Silver Dollar City, became Dollywood in the late 1980s after country music legend Dolly Parton – born in a one-room shack a few miles down the road – joined the board. This year the park is opening an adventure zone, Wildwood Grove, its largest ever expansion.
When Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4bn in 2012, it was only a matter of time before it used that Force to open a Star Wars theme park, and this year sees the launch of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in both the original Disneyland in California this summer, and at Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida, in autumn. These will be Disney’s biggest “single-themed land expansions”, and aim to make visitors feel like they’re stepping into one of the films. Fans can pilot a replica of Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon; role play in a battle between the First Order and the Resistance; and interact with extras playing smugglers and bounty hunters. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, and celebrations are in full swing at the Kennedy Space Center, an hour west of Orlando. And the expense of a family trip to Florida can be reduced slightly thanks to a new seasonal budget flight from Gatwick to Orlando with Wow Air (from 27 January, from £170 one-way).
Minimalism is over. It’s being replaced by … drumroll, please … maximalism. That means louder, bolder home interiors, clashing prints in fashion and hotels embracing opulence. Given that the trend has been driven in part by the modern-day obsession with Frida Kahlo, there is no better place to indulge a love of colour than Mexico, famous for its rich, vibrant art and design. In Mexico City the obvious starting point is Frida Kahlo’s cobalt blue house in Coyoacán, where you can also discover the neighbourhood’s baroque architecture and lively cantinas.
Head north from the capital to one of the most colourful cities in the country, Unesco-listed Guanajuato, with multihued houses and a thriving arts scene, showcased in the Museo del Pueblo Guanjuato and artist Diego Rivera’s childhood home (Museo Casa Diego Rivera) and also festivals, galleries and bohemian cafes. Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, is famously rich in indigenous culinary, craft and festival traditions. All are celebrated at the annual Guelaguetza festival, when the whole city explodes in celebration, but are also part of daily life of its markets, restaurants and galleries.
Total solar eclipse
This spectacular natural phenomenon will take place over the southern hemisphere on 2 July. For most of the day it will be over the Pacific and only visible from land near sunset – but as this land is mostly desert or semi-desert, there’s a good chance of excellent viewing conditions. Totality will be experienced in northern Chile and central Argentina, where the best places to see it will be the desert areas of Pismanta and near the town of Bellavista, both in San Juan province. Hotels close to the total-eclipse path are nearly booked out, particularly in Chile, so an alternative option is to stay in Buenos Aires or Argentina’s other major cities, Córdoba and Rosario, and travel to see the eclipse, which will pass just to the south of all three. High demand means eclipse packages don’t come cheap, though UK operators Journey Latin America and TravelLocal are offering interesting itineraries. And if you miss it this year, don’t despair: extraordinarily there will be another total solar eclipse in both countries in 2020!
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the foundation of the Cuban capital, originally named San Cristóbal de La Habana. Details of the celebrations have yet to be announced, but restoration of buildings such as the covered Cuatro Caminos market (closed since 2014), the ornate Central Railway Station and the 16th-century Morro fortress at the entrance to Havana bay, is under way, alongside a sprucing-up of public spaces and parks. Small-scale private business has been steadily growing since president Raul Castro’s liberalisation in 2016, with more activities and places to eat and have fun, including shops, restaurants, dance classes and private guesthouses. The year kicks off with the Havana Jazz Festival on 16-20 January.
Belize offers Caribbean beaches, jungle, Mayan ruins and Garifuna culture within just a few hours’ travel of each other. And with new seasonal (November-April) twice-weekly AeroMexico flights from Mexico City, the country is now easier to get to from the UK, avoiding having to fly via the US or Cancún on routes that often involve an overnight stay. Belize may have a growing reputation for exclusive, high-end eco-resorts (this year sees the opening of the Leonardo Di Caprio-owned luxury wellness retreat Blackadore) but the country is easily explored by independent travellers on a small budget. Affordable, independent places to stay include the riverside Sweet Songs jungle lodge in San Ignacio; Tobacco Caye on the Belize Barrier Reef, the world’s second-largest, and, as of January 2018, protected from oil exploration; and family-owned, off-grid Hicktaee Cottages as a base for exploring waterfalls, coral cayes, and Garifuna culture in southern Belize.
Until a peace deal with the Farc rebels was reached two years ago, many parts of Colombia had been off limits to everyone – even the military – for decades. One such area is Los Llanos, a vast tropical grassland and wetland plain east of the Andes that stretches from eastern Colombia into western Venezuela and is home to capybaras, jabiru storks, anaconda, giant anteaters, caiman, crocodiles, howler monkeys and hundreds of exotic bird species. The region is slowly opening up to tourism but poor infrastructure and a lack of accommodation means it is still a difficult and relatively expensive area to explore. UK operator Journey Latin America is starting wildlife trips to the area in 2019. The upside of this relative isolation is that the wildlife isn’t used to visitors, so creatures are relatively fearless and easy to spot. This is also cowboy country – so expect llaneros (Colombia’s guachos), lassoing competitions and Colombian folk music. In the future Los Llanos may rival Brazil’s Pantanal wetland as the best place in South America for wildlife watching.
Captain James Cook’s arrival on 8 October 1769, near the site of present-day Gisborne on North Island, led to the first meetings between Europeans and Maoris. But despite initial, sometimes fatal, misunderstandings, the great navigator’s efforts to build trust – helped by Tahitian chief Tupaia, who travelled with Cook – won him lasting respect. So although he will always be a controversial figure for some, the 250th anniversary of this historic meeting is a landmark event, being celebrated most notably with a voyage around the country by a flotilla including a replica of his ship, the Endeavour, setting off from Gisborne. One of Cook’s initial landing sites was stunning Mercury Bay, further up the coast, where the explorer became the first European to visit a Maori pa (village). The wider area, the Coromandel peninsula, has temperate rainforest, misty mountains and dramatic coastal scenery with several heavenly beaches. Hiking, cycling, kayaking and whale-watching trips keep visitors busy, and towns such as laid-back Whitianga offer plenty of opportunity to try the excellent seafood.
The launch the first non-stop flight between Australia and the UK last spring (from London to Perth with Qantas), followed in the autumn by Virgin Australia’s thrice-weekly Perth-Hobart flights means Tasmania has never been closer for visitors from the UK. The island’s rugged terrain makes it a hiker’s paradise, with multi-day walks, such as the guided six-day Cradle Mountain Huts walk and the Wukalina walk, an Aboriginal-operated four-day trek in the Bay of Fires region, with the final night spent in architect-designed dome huts. But with 1,740 miles of managed tracks in protected areas, there many unguided day hikes too (download the 60 Great Short Walks app). Tassie is also known for its art and festivals, and the next biennale, Ten Days on the Island, is in March (programme to be released on 30 January) and will showcase both Tasmanian and international artists; while the annual Festivale celebrates Tasmanian food, beer and wine in Launceston, a city with a growing foodie reputation.
São Tomé and Príncipe
Sitting almost on the equator and 140 miles off the coast of Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe is Africa’s second-smallest country (after the Seychelles). It is also one of the safest (there is barely any violent crime) and offers a warm welcome as well as pristine jungle and beaches – so no surprise it is popping up on more tour operators’ programmes for 2019. Príncipe, by far the smaller of the two islands, is home to just 7,000 people and offers great snorkelling, fishing and bird watching. Rainbow Tours has an 11-day island retreat, staying in locally run lodges, from £2,745 including flights. This year marks the centenary of the first experiment to confirm Einstein’s general theory of relativity, carried out at the Roça Sundy plantation on Príncipe in May 1919 during a total solar eclipse. The plantation is now a luxury hotel, after lying derelict until 2017: rooms are pricey but the bar and restaurant are worth a visit.
Times are changing in Ethiopia under its young, reforming prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who has made peace with Eritrea, created a new peace ministry and appointed women to half the cabinet posts. The country still faces deep challenges but 2019 is a fascinating time to visit. There are more ways to get there, too: Ethiopian Airlines launched new direct flights from Manchester to Addis Ababa last month. And it is easier to reach one of the most scenic parts of the country, the Bale Mountains, thanks to the new Bale Robe airport, opened in October. A one-hour flight from the capital instead of an eight-hour drive on bumpy roads, means the Bale Mountains may soon rival the better-known Simien Mountains. Go for a chance to spot the Ethiopian wolf, the rarest canid in the world.
A quarter of a century on from the Rwandan genocide, the country has turned itself around, and has a booming tourist industry (now its top foreign exchange earner). While gorilla tracking is expensive (permits cost $1,500), there’s plenty of other wildlife to see in protected parks. Akagera national park in the east is now a Big Five destination, following the reintroduction of black rhino and lion. In the capital, Kigali, the Genocide Memorial and Genocide Museum are must-visits, but there’s a new sense of energy in the city (one of the safest in Africa) and a burgeoning arts scene. Niyo Art Gallery is a large Rwandan house turned exhibition space for local artists, with profits going to help street children, while the Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga initiative is brightening the city with colourful murals.
Surfers have long known about Durban, with its sub-tropical climate, warm Indian Ocean waters and shark nets. But more travellers are waking up to the charms of the city, which has a unique fusion of Zulu, Indian and British colonial heritages – and is now easier to reach from the UK since British Airways launched direct flights from Heathrow in October. A wave of regeneration kickstarted by the 2010 World Cup has kept rolling in Durban, with formerly derelict quarters such as the Riverside Triangle, Station Drive Precinct, and Mahatma Gandhi Road now home to bars and restaurants, and there’s a flourishing design and music scene (uMkhumbane Cultural and Heritage Museum won the Africa Architecture Awards in 2017, while gqom stars Distruction Boyz, from KwaMashu township, were nominated best African act at the MTV awards).
Easyjet’s November launch of direct flights from Gatwick to Aqaba, on Jordan’s 20km of Red Sea coast, opened up a new route into the country from the south. Well-preserved coral reefs off the coast of Aqaba offer excellent diving, with endless colourful fish, the famous wreck of Cedar Pride, an 80-metre long cargo ship and a sunken anti-aircraft tank. The Red Sea Dive Centre, 20 minutes south of the city, has diving and snorkelling day trips, Padi courses and en suite doubles for £50 B&B. But Aqaba is also a gateway to the spectacular desert landscapes of Wadi Rum, 40 miles away, and less than two hours from Petra. Those who do fly to the capital, Amman, in the north, will find a blossoming foodie scene. Aside from markets and cookery classes in local homes, the capital has a thriving cafe culture and arts scene following regeneration in the past decade. Try Shams El Balad cafe for brunch and Sufra for a traditional Jordanian dinner. The cafe at the Wild Jordan Centre has views across the old city, plus crafts and eco-tours sold downstairs.