Feature As the world's economy contracts, the number and variety of destinations on offer just keeps on growing. Here are 50 trips to expand your horizons.
Have will, will travel
Take the advice of a crisp-eating guidebook junkie: the new year is not the best time to look in the mirror and wonder where all those extra kilos have come from. It's much better for the soul to cast a critical eye over your passport instead. Is it pleasingly plump thanks to being scanned and stamped by border and immigration officials, or still depressingly undamaged and super slim? If it's the latter, there is even more reason to start thinking about how best to spend your precious time out of the office. Travel broadens the mind as it narrows the bottom - that's if you have the energy to get off your sunlounger and trot to the lunch buffet.
You certainly won't be alone if you choose to head to the beach resorts of Turkey or Egypt this year, according to a survey by the UK travel association ABTA and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. British holidaymakers are travelling further afield thanks to the strength of the euro against the pound. The global economic downturn is sure to impact upon all our travel plans this year, in part because of such currency fluctuations. The US dollar and therefore the dirham will buy you significantly more in a number of countries around the world including Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, India, Canada and Iceland. What the future holds for the financial markets is impossible to predict but one thing is certain: it could pay to book last minute deals rather than months in advance.
It's too early to tell whether Emiratis will change their holiday habits this year. According to a spokesperson at Salem Travel Agency, private villas in Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland and apartments near the beach on Australia's gold coast are perennial favourites for those looking to escape the extreme heat of the summer. That's not to say that travellers from the UAE are not adventurous. "People go to a place, they come back then they look for something different [next time]," a spokesman says. The local tour operator is experiencing a demand for travel to Syria, Lebanon and Jordan as well as Malaysia, which attracts because of its familiar Muslim culture. Sri Lanka is a new destination with short breaks being offered in the capital city of Colombo.
The spirit of adventure - if with fewer stars and other such luxury trimmings - is still alive and well at the very top end of the market. The Ultimate Travel Company has added holiday-of-a-lifetime voyages in its new Polar Journeys brochure. "There doesn't seem to be any part of the world that people don't have an interest in," a spokesman says. Wisdom will replace greed in 2009 according to the eco-friendly travel website responsibletravel.com. It predicts that holidaymakers will travel closer to home and favour longer trips to classic destinations that guarantee bang for your buck - and some happy snaps. "Incredible journeys such as the Trans Siberian Railway, that epitomise slow and appreciative travel will be popular," Justin Francis, its managing director, says.
The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) predicts that holidaymakers from the world's major economies will choose to travel closer to home, trade their five-star for four-star breaks or simply stay home. The UN tourism agency has revised its figures for growth in the industry worldwide last year from six per cent down to between zero and two per cent. You know times are tough when the WTO sets up a Tourism Resilience Committee to support the industry. Africa, with its nascent and fragile tourism industry, is of particular concern according to Geoffrey Lipman, its assistant secretary-general: "I worry that the airlines which are under [financial] pressure will pull flights from the thin routes and the thin routes are the African routes, or put the prices up... and people will say, 'let's go to Dubai' rather than to Africa." Markets in the Middle East, Asia Pacific and China markets are comparatively well-insulated thanks to domestic travel, he says.
If there is to be an upside to the mess, the UAE - and Dubai in particular - is in a comparatively strong position. Cash-conscious travellers from Europe may well opt for a short(ish) flight to the Middle East over South Africa, Australia and the west coast of America. Hotel occupancy rates are reportedly down by up to 25 per cent in Dubai compared with this time last year, but tourists could be tempted to return by the sheer number of luxury hotels planned and already under construction in the city. Expect fewer cranes on the skyline and discounts on hotel room rates.
So, that's the view from the sofa. Here are 50 fascinating, new and wilder destinations to help you make the most of your travels in the year ahead: 1 One of the items on president-elect Barack Obama's 'to do' list - is said to be a warming of the relationship between the US and Cuba. If the trade embargo with the small communist state ends, the capital Havana's charm may fade: don't wait to find out.
2-3 Book a short break in Vilnius, Lithuania, a tiny, old world capital complete with cobbled streets and baroque churches. Don't be put off by the Soviet-style suburban sprawl: its Old Town is Unesco-listed and its waiters, taxi drivers and hotel staff have been given lessons in hospitality. Vilnius shares the title of European Capital of Culture 2009 with Linz in Austria. 4 Down but not out. This year on November 9-10, Berliners will mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall which separated east and west Germany. To mark the occasion, the now trendy German capital is hosting a programme of cultural events (see www.mauermuseum.de and www.germany-tourism.de).
5 The Galápagos Islands, 972km west off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific, are home to an astounding variety of wildlife. This year is the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin, who published his Origin of the Species in 1859. See Giant Tortoises and the Charles Darwin Research Centre with Discovery Initiatives on a modern-day Beagle cruise ship, from $5,340 (Dh19,900) for a week-long trip, full-board with local transfers but not including flights to Ecuador (www.discoveryinitiatives.co.uk).
6 The current weakness of the pound against the dirham makes now an ideal time to take in the sights of London. Take a look at www.visitlondon.com and time your trip to coincide with whatever exhibition, concert or critically-acclaimed play takes your fancy. 7 Yemen, one of the least discovered corners of Arabia, appears in the history books in the 1st millennium BC when the Sabaeans started to control the sale of frankincense. The country welcomes around 330,000 tourists per year and a number of tour operators are exploring the possibility of adding Yemen to their books in 2009.
8 Ancient Jerusalem, or Al-Quds as it is known in Arabic, has been designated Arab Capital of Culture 2009 by Unesco in recognition of its importance. If you have deep pockets, stay at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem, 10 minutes from the Damascus Gate in the Old City and a favourite rest stop for politicians, journalists and diplomats. Doubles cost from $440 (Dh1,616) per night (www.americancolony.com).
9 Support the locals in Myanmar. Some travellers refuse to visit the until the political situation changes, but for those who want to encourage tourism as a means of supporting the struggling population, consider Journeys Within. This year, the specialist operator has promised to donate 100 per cent of the profits from its first 10 trips to the country, and 50 per cent of the profits thereafter. For further information, visit www.journeys-within.com.
10 Cash-strapped? Turkey is predicted to become a hot travel destination this year for those seeking a cheaper alternative to eurozone destinations, but you don't have to lower your expectations. Follow Istanbul's hip crowd to Alaçati, an upmarket windsurfing hangout on the Çesme Peninsula. The village has great nightlife thanks to Babylon, a cult Istanbul music venue which recently opened an outpost at the five-star Alaçati Beach Resort - happily, there are (slightly) cheaper places to stay.
11 Safari in style. The Nkwichi Lodge on the wild northern shores of freshwater Lake Niassa in Mozambique comprises seven private chalets made of local stone with shady verandas. Fat cats need not feel too awkward when lazing in their hammocks, however, thanks to the way in which the eco-friendly lodge financially supports 15 local villages, helping to provide employment, education and healthcare programmes, winning it responsible tourism awards along the way. Stay for four nights, paying from $290 per person per night, and earn a fifth night gratis (www.mandawilderness.org).
12 Bling it on. The QE2 raised a few smiles - and hackles - when it sailed out of Southampton in the UK back in November for its new life as a luxury floating hotel, permanently moored alongside the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai. This year there are up to 30 hotel openings planned in that development alone, including the Trump International Hotel & Tower and other familiar brands such as the One&Only Royal Mirage, Taj, Oberoi, Chedi, Anantara, Movenpick and Kempinski.
13 Only seven stars? One of the world's first Armani hotels is due to open in the Burj Dubai this year. The understated fashion label promises that its hotels will offer "a complete lifestyle" experience. Back in the real world of miniature soap and missed wake-up calls, this translates into 160 guestrooms, a spa, private members' club, two restaurants and a nightclub. (www.armanihotels.com). 14 Another Italian fashion house, Missoni, is set to open two hotels next year, this time in Kuwait City and Edinburgh, Scotland. The interiors have reportedly been designed by the label's founder Rosita Missoni and the architect and designer Matteo Thun, and feature the brand's signature zig-zag patterns. The new hotel in Kuwait, with 200 sea-view rooms and a Six Senses spa, should help to put the Gulf state on the world tourism map (www.missonihotels.com).
15 The new India. Not that there is anything wrong with India, but Bangladesh, its neighbour, deserves a mention as a travel hot spot in waiting. Take in Unesco World Heritage Sites such as the Sundarbans, a vast mangrove forest, the world's longest natural sea beach, and the colourful Durga Puja festival, which celebrates the eponymous warrier goddess, on a trip through responsibletravel.com. From $1,900 (Dh7,000) for 13 days, excluding flights.
16 Extreme skiing. Yes, Europe was overwhelmed with the white stuff this season, allowing some classic resorts such as Zermatt in Switzerland to open early, but don't lose your appetite to venture further afield. Stay at the Lyngen Lodge in Norway, 480 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, for some midnight sun and pristine powder. One week at the lodge, full board in a twin-room, with a ski guide costs $2,750 (Dh10,100), not including flights to/from Tromso (www.lyngenlodge.com).
17-20 Boundary, Terence Conran's new boutique hotel, has just opened in an old Victorian warehouse in trendy Shoreditch, East London, and features an enclosed roof terrace to keep out grey rainy days. Each of the 17 bedrooms has a unique style thanks to the involvement of designers such as Sir David Tang, Polly Dickens and Priscilla Carluccio (0044 207 729 1051; www.theboundary.co.uk). Nick Jones, the man behind the Soho House chain of private members' clubs, is set to open yet more places to be seen and party in West Hollywood, Miami and Berlin this year (www.sohohouse.com).
21 Explore an older world. Dragoman is running its first trip to Iran for seven years. The 25-night Turkic and Persian Splendours tour takes travellers from Cappadocia in Turkeyto the ancient cities of Esfahan and the ruins of Persepolis, and on to Tehran before heading on into Turkmenistan, which is now more accessible to tourists. Prices start from $2,330 (Dh8,560), not including flights (0044 1728 861 133; www.dragoman.com).
22 Credit freeze. Iceland's financial woes are more serious than most after its economy collapsed in October: rather perversely, it makes it a good time to pay a visit to this traditionally expensive destination. Shop around for discounted deals to the capital Reykjavik, or short breaks to explore the country's famously dramatic landscapes and glaciers. 23 Great expectations. Due to open late in 2009, The Yamu in Phuket, Thailand, designed by Philippe Starck, the architect Jean-Michel Gathy and the man behind Aman resorts, Adrian Zecha, promises much - not least a chocolate room, a recording studio and artist's studio for creative types with a sweet tooth, perhaps? (www.theyamu.com).
24 A blockbuster exhibition at the British Museum exploring power and empire, examining the world of Moctezuma II, the last great Aztec emperor, should inspire a legion of tourists to seek out modern-day Mexico. The exhibition opens in London on Sept 24 and runs until Jan 24, 2010. 25 Be bold. A trip to Angola, one of the world's poorest countries after decades of civil war, is not for the faint-hearted, but Imaginative Traveller is organising a 4x4 safari in its south-west corner in September. The 14-day adventure will include hiking, visits to the national parks, the colonial city of Lubango and the Himba tribes. Costs from $3,500 (Dh12,860) excluding flights (0044 1473 667337; www.imaginative-traveller.com).
26 Explore the deserts, mountains and rainforests of Madagascar at a sedate pace beginning in Antananarivo, the highland capital, and taking in both the Ranohira and Isalo National Park with its dramatic, sandstone landscape. An ascent of Pic Boby, the second highest peak in Madagascar, crowns the tour. A 15-day trip, including eight days of trekking costs $2,027 (Dh7,445) excluding flights (0044 17687 73966; www.keadventure.com).
27 Beyond Thailand. Cambodia offers the kind of isolation and wild beaches that have long since disappeared in the more popular destinations in south east Asia. Combine a trip to the capital Phnom Penh to see the National Museum or have a facial at the Bliss spa on Street 240 - yes, really - to add to well-trodden sights such as Angkor Wat. You'll also find beautiful beaches near Sihanoukville, a wilderness in the Cardamom Mountains and trekking in Bokor National Park (www.tourismcambodia.com).
28-32 See the 'Stans. Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan in central Asia should excite travellers looking for something off the beaten track. Kyrgyzstan in particular will earn you serious passport points. Highlights include its birds of prey festival at Manzhyly-Ata on the shores of Lake Issyk Kyl, and its horse racing festival held in Barskoön in early November - not forgetting a trek in alpine meadows admiring the peaks of the Tian Shan.
33 The film set. Baz Luhrmann's epic may have been branded a Christmas turkey by the critics but Australia, the country, is definitely worth seeing. Responsibletravel.com offers tours to some stunning locations, including Lord Howe Island, east of the mainland, encircled by a coral reef. Be one of the lucky few to stay on the island for $379 (Dh1,392) per person, per night (0044 1273 600 030; www.responsibletravel.com). Etihad will begin flying to Melbourne in March.
34 Cruises need not be expensive, as the Alaska Marine Highway ferries that ply the 2,000km-long inside passage off the coast of British Columbia, Canada and Alaska proves. Book a cabin for a 38-hour voyage from Bellingham to Ketchikan and jostle on desk to catch a view of orcas and other whales and bald eagles soaring overhead. A two-berth cabin with facilities and a view costs from $257 (Dh940) (www.dot.state.ak.us).
35 Polar exploration, close up. Nature lovers and misanthropists alike should enjoy drifting through the isolated wilderness on a 17-day sea-kayaking trip in the remote Tassilaq fjord complex in eastern Greenland. There's also the opportunity to hike to Ikateq Island if you crave yet more physical exercise. The trip costs $3,460 (Dh12,700) not including international flights (0044 131 625 6635; www.wildernessjourneys.com).
36 The new Le Gray Hotel in Beirut, Lebanon, is an 80-room boutique hotel in the downtown Solidere district, within walking distance from the capital's most interesting archaeological sites, the souqs, its harbour and serious designer shopping and good restaurants. The area is considered somewhat touristy by locals but it's also the least congested part of the city (www.legrayhotel.com). 37 Strbske Pleso. Where, you ask. Set to open in April, The Grand Hotel Kempsinski High Tatras, in Slovakia, promises luxury accommodation and fine views out over in the Carpathian mountains. There are cross-country ski trails and downhill skiing for entertainment in the winter months (00421 52 3262 222; www.kempinski-hightatras.com).
38 The lakes and mountains of New Zealand hold particular appeal for outdoor types and it's a good time to go, given the exchange rate. Explore forests, stunning coastal scenery and glaciers, breathing in the freshest of fresh air all the while. Go to www.newzealand.com. 39 The city of São Paulo in Brazil used to have a dubious reputation for crime and pollution but it has cleaned up it's act and the skyline is dotted with gleaming new skyscrapers. Time your visit to coincide with São Paulo's carnival in February.
40 Mark the election of America's first African-American president with a tour of the civil rights museum trail from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama, USA. Your trip should include a visit to Brown Chapel in Selma where Dr. Martin Luther King launched the Voting Rights Movement. For highlights on the trail, visit www.800alabama.com. 41 Made in Taiwan. A new 12-day trek to the Jade Mountain area as its known, in the Yushan National Park, also takes in the cultural capital of Tainan city. The trip costs $1,870 (Dh6,900), not including international flights (0044 17687 73966; www.keadventure.com).
42 Algeria is similar to Morocco in dress and dialect but much poorer and less touristy, and yet it's vast and stunningly beautiful nevertheless. Take a 16-day small group adventure tour through Niger and Algeria for $2,600 (Dh9,600) through responsibletravel.com. 43 The island of Borneo is yet another beautiful destination whose most prized assets - its pristine rainforests and wildlife - are under threat. The best way to discover this vast wilderness is by river with a guide. A five-day boat trip with the chance to see orang-utans and meet local fishermen on the Rungan River, costs from $805 per person (Dh3,000) excluding international flights (0062 811 52 0648; www.wowborneo.com).
44 Beyond Cairo. While Egypt's capital is one of the great travel destinations in the Middle East, the huge cemetary of ancient Memphis at Saqqara, 25km south of Cairo and Egypt's largest archaeological site, is almost deserted once the coach tours quickly depart. 45. Cheaper New York. Keen not to price themselves out of the market, several hotels are already offering recession specials and some, which have newly opened, are as hip as you might hope but still affordable. Book a room at The Jane, a West Village hotel from the owners of the trendy Bowery Hotel, for only $99 (Dh360) per night (001 212 924 6700; www.thejanenyc.com).
46 If you like your holiday destinations a little rough around the edges, now is the time to visit Panama. The economic hotspot on the southernmost edge of Central America is due to be blessed with a Donald Trump development, the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower, and a Frank Gehry-designed Museum of Biodiversity, is reportedly scheduled to open in 2010. 47 Forget modern-day designer chic, the 22-room Antumalal Hotel was built in the Bauhaus style in the 1950s and overlooks Villarrica Lake and seven waterfalls in Pucón, in Patagonia, southern Chile. A double room costs from $280 (Dh1,028) including breakfast (0056 45 44101; www.antumalal.com)
48 The Trans Siberian train from Moscow to Vladivostock or Beijingtransports passengers through fascinating and changing scenery including Mongolia - and you can hop on and off. For more information about fares, visit www.seat61.com 49 Cultural upstart.The swishest of the newly-minted European Union entrants, Slovenia has awesome natural assets and its capital, Ljubljana, is being heralded as the new Prague. Explore Worldwide offers an active, eight-day tour of blue glacial lakes and mountain cliffs, forests and caves, from $1,240 (Dh4,550) excluding flights (www.explore.co.uk)
50 The longest total eclipse of the sun for 100 years will take place on July 22. For a good view of the drama, travel to the banks of the Qiantang River in China, near the city of Hangzhou. A number of tour operators are offering tours led by astronomers - expect a crush of spectators wearing funny glasses.
Hamida Ghafour Skiing in Faraya Mzaar, Lebanon's largest ski resort located about an hour's drive north of Beirut was a highlight of my year. The slopes were nearly empty because it was the last week of the season. At night I could hear the snow melting into the narrow streets of the town. The snow shrank further from the hills but it did not matter because I could ski at my own pace and as many times as I wanted. At the end of the day I dined at the only French restaurant where the food was simply outstanding: steaks and salads done to perfection. This year, I long to return to Bangkok. I particularly love the flower market and pressing garlands of jasmine to my face. China town at night comes to life with street vendors lined up for a mile, each serving a different tasty morsel combining the best of Thai and Chinese cuisine. John Henzell "Alaska is not just a place of bear attacks and Sarah Palin, but the ferocity of each helps explain the appeal of the last truly frontier state of the US. With 250ha for each resident and half of them squashed into the urban ugliness of Anchorage, this is the state to encounter nature at its wildest - hopefully without finding humans stand no higher than fifth on the food chain. There's the treeless permafrost north of the Arctic circle, North America's highest peak or even, outside of the 24-hour light of summer, witnessing the eerie sheen of aurora borealis in the night sky. "For anyone based in the relentlessly modernising cities of the UAE, Yemen stands as a mostly unaltered reminder of millennia of tradition on the Arabian peninsula. The country is full of UNESCO world heritage sites, ranging from the mud-brick high rise of Shibam, dubbed the Manhattan of the desert, to the ancient capital of Sana'a. It's not the safest to travel in now but that will help ensure it retains the Yemeni character." Rupert Wright "Last summer I took a ferryboat from a port near Saint-Tropez and after a 40-minute boat ride, landed at Port Cros. It is a small treasure island, half-French, half-Caribbean. There are no vehicles on the island, not even a bicycle. The only transportation is a Mini Moke that takes your luggage to the most romantic hotel in French waters: Le Manoir. It's a large white building, set up among palm trees and oleanders. There is little to do but swim in the pool, walk across the island and go snorkelling in the sea or eat 'Beaux Yeux' fish in the restaurant on the port. Heaven. "This summer I intend to visit as many Oberoi Hotels in India as possible. Not only are they the best run places to stay in Asia - my favourite to date is the Rajvilas in Jaipur - but it's important to show terrorists that while they might frighten us, they cannot intimidate or prevent us from travelling." Daniel Bardsley "Kazakhstan's sparkling new capital, Astana, was my travel highlight of last year, its countless new skyscrapers, huge government buildings and shiny company headquarters a monument to the country's extraordinary ambition - and perhaps the rampant egotism of its leaders. The complete transformation of this city over the past decade puts even Dubai's incredible development in the shade. And as many of the residential units are unfinished, the new city is still eerily quiet, with barely a tourist or local in sight. In 2009 I aim to visit two tiny states that also bear comparison to the UAE - Djibouti and Brunei. Each is said to blend modern seaside development with the traditions of Islam, although neither is likely to be easy on the wallet. "I also hope to take in Eritrea, whose capital Asmara apparently retains a nonchalant Italian air - as well as having a blend African and Arab influences - despite the upheavals the country has endured in its conflicts with Ethiopia." Jonathan Lessware "There is something almost impossible to describe that draws people back to the Isles of Scilly. The feeling of island isolation in a place so unspoilt that you worry some day it will change leaves the visitor with perfect memories and a sense of disbelief that they are in the UK and not the Caribbean. There can not be a more satisfying way to spend two weeks than to pull on your hiking boots and disappear into the Annapurna range of mountains in Nepal. A country where even the most cynical will be struck by its spirituality, where the friendliness of the people leaves you with a permanent smile and the scenery just blows your mind. There's something about Morocco that puts it on the "must-go" list of most adventurous travellers. I can not wait to saddle up and take a cycle tour through the spectacular valleys and gorges of the Atlas mountains before indulging in some Casablancan cinematic nostalgia. The Yemeni islands of Socotra, perched precariously off the pirate-infested coast of Somalia, have been dubbed the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean. In 2008 it became a UNESCO world natural heritage site for its unique and spectacular flora and fauna. Rugged landscapes and superb diving make this unusual location a big draw for 2009." Rosemary Behan The highlight of 2008 was meeting the author and Ibn Battutah fan Tim Mackintosh-Smith in Sana'a. He's not only a brilliant travel writer but a hugely entertaining personality, very generous with his time and admirably at home and at ease in the gorgeous old city of Yemen's capital, where he gave me a guided tour. Obtaining a visa on arrival was very easy, though Sana'a was surprisingly free of tourists. In Djerba, Tunisia, I was stunned by the 1,000-year-old whitewashed Ibadite mosques on the island, which is also home to one of north Africa's oldest synagogues. Bored of the rarified atmosphere in St Anton and Val d'Isere, I'm planning on skiing in Lebanon next month. I'm also itching to see Damascus and Socotra. The Olive Cooperative, a Manchester-based tour operator, runs small-group tours to Israel and the occupied territories. Its aims - to "raise awareness" and "work together for a just peace" ? may seem a bit woolly, but I'm interested in seeing the Palestinians and Israelis who are, even in this time of seemingly interminable strife, working together to provide tours and accommodation to guests from around the world.