In 2020, more than ever, where you travel matters. And if not just for the concept of sustainability and the enviable travel photos, but for the chance to discover a place with few other footsteps.
Here’s a few destinations we think hit the mark – just don’t tell the others.
A place that’s not really Asia or Europe, Azerbaijan calls loudly to those looking to forge their own tourist trail in 2020. Start at the cosmopolitan capital, Baku, where the 21st century is surprisingly not out of place alongside Zoroastrian, Sasanian, Arabic, Shirvani, Persian, Ottoman and Russian influences. Dating back to the 6th century, the city’s Old Town is a maze of mosques and markets, its charm in stark contrast to the looming Fire Towers that anchor the modern skyline. Beyond, see and be seen along the waterfront of the Caspian Sea and take a trip out of town to the country’s fiery heart, Yanar Dag, where flames can, and do, spontaneously burst from the ground.
Tourism is still relatively new for this South-East Asian country. Myanmar (Burma) has only recently begun relaxing its travel restrictions in the past decade, meaning you’ll play a part in forging the path for other travellers and the start of new opportunities for locals. Off the beaten path is an apt way of describing the country, for its landscape is green slopes studded with pagodas and monasteries, with the best views from a hot-air balloon ride in Bagan. For a glimpse into the past, head to Mandalay, the country’s ‘second’ city (and royal capital). Haphazard in its beauty and charm, Mandalay offers the intrepid explorer with thriving customs, such as tea ceremonies, as well as a gamut of temples, palaces and markets to explore.
Hurry, before the rest of the world cottons onto the beauty of Bhutan. Situated between India and China, this lush land is green in more ways than one: it’s one of the world’s only carbon-negative countries, absorbing six million tonnes of carbon per year. The government also did away with GDP-based decision making, rather, measuring its economic success on the Gross National Happiness (GNH) index instead. And happiness is served up on a platter with no shortage of delights at luxury resorts across the kingdom, including Six Senses, CMO, Taj and Aman, all embodying the virtues of hospitality in 5-star surroundings.
The world’s religious heart beats fast in Jerusalem. The one-square-kilometre walled Old City is the pilgrimage destination of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, with the Church of the Sepulchre shared across multiple denominations. Life here is frenetic, but rushes by in an organised chaos, down laneways and through marketplaces such as the famous Mahane Yehuda Market. Beyond the Old City is a cosmopolitan city centre, where good food and a buzzing nightlife await.
Also known as the Land of a Thousand Hills for its bottle green forest-clad peaks, travel to where the wild things are in Rwanda. The country is known for being home to the last remaining mountain gorillas, but it’s not just monkey business here. The One&Only Nyungwe House set in the tea plantations of Gisakura is your personal playground – of the 5-star kind. Curated experiences at this rainforest retreat include the art of tea picking, chimpanzee trekking and stargazing.
There’s an apparent undercurrent of ecotourism trend for travel in 2020, and where else but to put on your list but Costa Rica? A trailblazer in environmental policy, Costa Rica has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2021, and has taken great strides in protecting its natural environment, with more than 10% of the landscape designated national parks. Footprints are few and far between in remote regions like the Osa Peninsula and Golfo Dulce down south or the rainforest canals of Cahuita National Park and the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.
This sunny South American coast and country is often overlooked in favour of its more alluring neighbours, however, Uruguay has plenty to offer the curious traveller in 2020 – particularly the hungry ones. Food and wine here is aplenty, with Uruguayans consuming more beef per capita than anywhere else in the world. Dig into charred cuts at the Mercado del Puerto in Montevideo, washing it down with a glass or two of the local tannat, the country’s champion grape that runs the gamut from bright and juicy to complex and even sweet and sticky.
Remote, pristine, harsh and otherworldly are a few ways to describe Antarctica. Its landscape is awash with jaw-dropping scenery and a surprisingly multitude of wildlife few others have seen. Earth’s final frontier is a long-held dream for many, so it’s only fitting to explore in 6-star, limitless luxury. Board the Scenic Eclipse, and discover little islands with big tales to tell, from South Georgia to the Falklands, and onto the Antarctic Peninsula, all while savouring all-inclusive luxury.
Travellers seeking an alternative to the well-worn paths of Rome need only head north to Umbria, Italy’s green heart. While Umbria doesn’t have the acclaim of nearby Tuscany, it offers the same kinds of experiences – and more – with fewer crowds. Charming, medieval hill towns such as Assisi, Spoleto and Norcia are easy to navigate within the pastoral scenery, and the region’s food and wine is equal to any other gastronomic centre in Italy – gourmands, Umbria’s truffles, ham and cheese are all worth travelling for.
Rising to fame thanks to its picture-perfect backdrops setting the scenes for worldwide hits such as Game of Thrones, Croatia’s appeal isn’t waning. Beyond the walled city of Dubrovnik, there’s sailing trips to join and national parks to discover. Venture to the ethereal Plitvice Lakes National Park and its sixteen aqua lakes, interconnected by a series of tranquil waterfalls, set deep within woodlands home to deer, bears, wolves and bird species.
Overcoming decades of political and historical struggles, Galway is 2020’s European Capital of Culture, no doubt named thanks to its bohemian centre heaving with buskers and street theatre within medieval walls. Crawl from pub to pub in search of song and dance, before strolling the promenade down to seaside setting Salthill in search of the famous local oysters, pairing perfectly with a pint. Good craic indeed.
The Kingdom of Tonga
There’s island time, and then there’s Tonga time. Life in this South Pacific nation is unhurried and informal, the antidote for city slickers never more than an arm's length from the demands of mobile reception and instant messages. Once you’ve found your zen, there’s kayaking on the protected lagoon on Tongatapu, snorkelling along the coast, cave systems to explore, or you could shift gears down again, seeking solitude in a hammock by the water or from the deck of your beachfront bungalow. Tonga is really the perfect place to unshackle from the slaves of modern-day demands.
Australian eco retreats
Our backyard is home to some truly unforgettable accommodations that have to be seen to be believed in 2020. Across the country, along coastlines, nestled in wine regions and hidden within bushlands await experiences where luxury is only just the beginning, such is the demand for staycations.
Sal Salis, Ningaloo Reef, serves up an immersive wilderness experience, complete with luxury tents and world-class cuisine with a minimal footprint – think glamping to the nth degree. Back on the coast west, Jackalope Hotel in the Mornington Peninsula, two hours from Melbourne, brings that capital cool with its all-black-everything style and quirk, complete with hatted restaurant Doot Doot Doot, cellar door and infinity pool (yes, it’s black too) overlooking the grapevines. Oh, and don’t forget the free popcorn for your in-room movies.