The New Year is upon us and it is always good to start it by making travel plans so you have something to look forward to.
So we turn to this fascinating list of travel destinations that Lonely Planet drew up. But the question really is, where are you heading this year?
Made most famous amongst middle class Indians perhaps by the eponymous animated film franchise, Madagascar is number ten in the list of Lonely Planet’s list of top countries to visit this year.
While you may not find talking animals like in the movie, Madagascar does offer an experience to last you a lifetime. For starters, it is home to five per cent of all known animal and plant species and spectacular diversity in its landscape.
With poor road conditions however, travelling in Madagascar can be a huge challenge and reaching scenic resorts can mean having to charter a private plane or a boat.
Even so, as Lonely Planet best puts it: “Be prepared to be overwhelmed: in both fauna and landscapes, the world’s fourth-biggest island is otherworldly. To those seeking a place out of the ordinary, Madagascar cannot fail to delight.”
9. Dominican Republic
Say hello to one of the best value-for-money countries in the Caribbean that has a lot to offer besides its geographical diversity and charming colonial architecture.
The people are warm, the music great and foods and drink as exotic as they come.
Join a local baseball game or go trekking, mountain biking or engage in your favourite water-sport.
If you aren’t an adrenalin junkie explore the fascinating colonial architecture in the capital Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial or wander aimlessly in the quaint villages, mountain retreats and sugar plantations.
Lonely Planet writes: “If you’re looking for a hassle free holiday that’s big on relaxation then the Dominican Republic is the place to be!”
And we couldn’t agree more.
Land in Istanbul, the capital city of Turkey that has been the setting of many a Hollywood film, including the latest Bond movie.
Take a walk down the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul or the Hagia Sophia or a cruise on the Bosphorus and visit the Bosphorus Bridge that connects Europe and Asia.
Look down at Mount Erciyes from a hot air balloon or breathe in the oxygen-rich air of Ida Mountains or snap the legendary city of Troia (or Troy), Turkey is a country that has something to offer for everyone.
It is easy to fall in love with this b-e-a-utiful country and it has a lot more to do with the geographical wonders that Iceland has to offer.
The Icelanders are a warm bunch of people whose hospitality is bound to draw you to them and their nation.
Since it is also still recovering from the currency crash in that devalued the Krona by 75 per cent, Iceland becomes a relatively inexpensive destination to travel to.
As Lonely Planet suggests: “Take advantage of the current low prices to indulge in horse riding, elf hunting, white-water rafting, glacier walks, caving and sea kayaking.”
Don’t miss the Northern Lights or whale-watching that is a big draw or witness the overwhelming site of thousands of puffins nesting on a clifftop or dig into platefuls of delicious fish and lamb dishes
The amazing sites of Iceland may not be a secret as they were two decades ago but visit the country in 2013 before the prices go up as its economy recovers.
6. Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands boast of lovely coral beaches, breathtaking volcanoes and lush green mountains.
With excellent weather conditions through the year, the Solomon Islands are a popular diving destination that offer an array of corals, sea life and innumerable World War II plane and shipwrecks.
A must-visit if you’re a water baby, Solomon Islands also have something for the culturally inclined. The Solomons and Papua New Guinea are home to over 800 distinct languages and lifestyles and it might be a good idea to plan your trip around the various colourful festivals as painted warriors and snake-wielding fire dancers perform to the pounding of drums.
With nine national parks, numerous caves, rocky formations, canyons and waterfalls as well as the highest number of castles and chateaux per capita in the world, you really must be a couch potato to not want to visit Slovakia.
The country is also home to a number of mineral and thermal springs as well as world-famous spas. Visit them or just simply unwind by swimming and sunbathing. If partying is your thing, Bratislava has a lively nightlife and is a popular partying destination.
WikiTravel quite succinctly puts it: “The main reasons to visit Slovakia are its natural beauty, vivid history and great opportunities for relaxation (and due to the small size of the country, it is quite easy to combine all three).”
The railway network in Ecuador’s is set to be revamped this year with new lines taking you to as high as 5900m to the country’s famed volcano Cotopaxi and the Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose).
It would make it the steepest railway line in the western world.
Ecuador boasts of old colonial mansions and ancient churches and monasteries as well as quant villages, Amazonian rainforest regions and breathtaking mountains.
Visit Ecuador. You won’t regret it.
3. South Korea
Seoul, the centre of Asia’s third-largest economy and the capital of South Korea may be a bustling city but give the size and the amazing transport infrastructure of the country as well as its tiny size you can be amidst nature in less than an hour.
Escape into pristine national parks or go sailing and fishing or simply experience the quiet and peace of Buddhist temple retreats.
If that doesn’t fascinate you, be part of the lively nightlife of Seoul, party away or dig into (as LP puts it) ‘Asia’s least known, but most delicious cuisines’.
Lonely Planet describes Montenegro as an ’emerging superstar with wild beauty’.
And why not, the country boasts of stunning mountains, breathtaking canyons, stunning ancient cities and more.
Explore the historic towns of Stari Bar, Kotor and Budva, head out for a hike to the mountains in the north or simply cycle around the country along the developing biking tracks.
Montenegro is the place to go this year.
1. Sri Lanka
Great many things have been said about Sri Lanka. Romantics have compared it a teardrop falling from the tip of the Indian Ocean. The Arabs called it Serendib from which originated that lovely English word — serendipity that so wonderfully describes the occurrence of events by a happy coincidence. And long before the marketing geniuses sold us ‘best in its segment’ cars, the explorer Marco Polo had already made a case for Sri Lanka back in the 1300s calling it the finest island of its size in the world.
If you’re on a really shoestring budget, Sri Lanka might just be the answer to your problems primarily because the Indian Rupee is twice as expensive as the local currency — the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) and therefore technically opens up a lot more doors for you than in most South Asian countries.
Many operators in India will be happy to arrange tours for you and your family, but if you don’t mind roughing it out, Sri Lanka can be seen very easily from budget guesthouses and by public transport. Visit it and you’ll discover that this ‘hidden gem’ was right under your nose.