The new year is a perfect time for planning international travel, especially after a year like 2020. Whether you're hoping to relax in paradise halfway around the world or reawaken your body on a physically challenging adventure, you'll need some inspiration. Step back in time by choosing a destination with ancient architecture, and learn what makes the local culture special. If you're hoping to get your blood pumping, book a tour in an extreme environment and lace up your hiking boots. If you can't decide on a destination, consider spending your tourist dollars where they'll make the most positive impact.
What Costa Rica lacks in size, it makes up for in biodiversity and natural splendor. Cloud forests straddle steaming volcanic mountains. Tropical jungles teeming with wildlife become mangrove swamps and unspoiled beaches on Pacific and Caribbean waters. Costa Rica supports around six percent of the world's species, and a quarter of the land is untouched protected territory. The Caribbean nation is a beauty you'll have to witness for yourself. Eco-conscious travelers should look for a Certification for Sustainable Tourism accreditation when choosing hotels, tour packages, and restaurants. Locals work hard to protect the environment, and tourist dollars go a long way to help those efforts. Enjoy a taste of local brew on a high-altitude coffee hike.
Nothing says vacation better than white sand beaches, clear blue skies, and pristine turquoise waters. You'll find some of the world's most breathtaking beaches and the dreamiest lagoons in the Phillippines at surprisingly reasonable rates. Unlike most island hotspots during peak season, lesser-traveled beaches and lagoons remain in the Phillippines, where you can enjoy the scenery in near solitude. Stay on the island of Palawan in El Nido, far from the hustle and bustle of Manila. Hop on a boat to Bacuit Bay to swim in the famous Big and Small Lagoons or tour the massive limestone caves. The only thing more beautiful than the surrounding landscapes is the generous hospitality of the locals. They routinely invite new friends over for good food and conversation. High season runs from October to May, so plan to embark on your island getaway when the weather turns cold back home.
Italy's economy was among Europe's hardest-hit in 2020. Rural communities won't bounce back as quickly as big cities, which means your tourist dollars will have more impact at a farm stay. Agritourism, or agriturismo in Italian, is the marriage of agriculture and tourism. It gives travelers an authentic farm, ranch, or vineyard experience, with farm-to-table feasts and locally sourced ingredients. Some farms give behind-the-scenes looks at their daily operations, while others teach cooking classes using herbs and vegetables from the property. Many farm stays are located in historic buildings or on generations-old ranches, but that's not to say you can't enjoy a few modern conveniences.
Zambia is the African country you never knew you wanted to visit. Victoria Falls is worth the trip alone. Located on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe, visitors can view the world's largest waterfall in all its natural glory. Book the tour that includes a dip in Devil's Pool, a swimming hole that sits on a ledge overlooking the falls. Kafue National Park and the lower-Zambezi National Park should also be on your itinerary. The park has a reputation for its wildness, with few traces of human interference or modern amenities. The U.S. State Department considers Zambia one of the safest countries in Africa. Nonetheless, it's always a good idea to check online for travel advisories and limit risky behavior.
Located opposite Italy on the Adriatic Sea, Croatia is a picturesque coastal territory with Game of Thrones fans will recognize the ancient city of Dubrovnik as King's Landing, the mythical seat of power. That may have been just a story, but the magic and majesty of Old Town Dubrovnik are real. The bright orange rooftops of the city and old fortress make the city a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Croatia's charming seaside towns aren't as pricey as the stunning views would have you believe. Book a stay at a bed-and-breakfast, then head for Pasjača, a private beach with striking balcony views.
It's impossible to appreciate all of Iceland's enchanting beauty in one trip, but Road Number 1 is a great place to start. Also known as The Ring Road of Iceland, Route 1 circles the country and reveals breathtaking sceneries. Drive through lush landscapes and view towering waterfalls up-close. Visit Jokulsarlon in the summer to ride a boat around the glacier lagoon. Diamond Beach is another must-see, where chunks of iceberg shine like diamonds on the pitch-black sands. If you're ready for an extreme adventure, visit Vatnajokull National Park in the south. Centered around the Vatnajökull glacier, you'll find miles of wild hiking trails here through ice caves, snow-covered peaks, massive glaciers, and open meadows. Things get a bit warmer in the interior highlands, where constant geothermal activity feeds soothing mineral waters into hot springs. Take a dip and enjoy panoramic views before embarking on a journey of the lava fields.
A journey to India is a treat for the senses. Mumbai is surprisingly hip, with a lively nightlife scene and delicious street foods. The Khal Goda neighborhood is home to a local art scene not yet discovered by the tourist masses. Head North to Rajasthan, where the capital city Jaipur lays claim to one of the newest UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some of India's finest architectural masterpieces reside here, painted in various shades of pink. From the city gates to the elaborate royal palaces, the dusty-hued buildings provide a stunning backdrop for the best photos your Instagram followers will see in 2021. Book a homestay in the city center, where the locals' hospitality and community knowledge help visitors create an authentic experience. If you're in the mood for luxury, indulge yourself with a reservation at a five-star hotel — it isn't as pricey as you think.
Visiting Cuba is like taking a trip back in time. The country's political history isn't perfect, but the people's resilience and passionate way of living make this Caribbean island a charming destination. Old Havana and Trinidad, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are picture-perfect, with centuries-old architecture and cobblestone streets on display. The beaches are also a nice respite after a long day of wandering the busy streets. Relax on the white sands next to baby blue waters, then head to Castillo del Morro. The impressive 17th-century stronghold is one of the best-reserved Spanish fortresses. Whatever you do, don't forget to stop and enjoy the moment. Follow the Cubans' lead and take part in celebrations and street carnivals. Indulge in typical dishes like tamales and roasted pork or chicken and rice, washing them down with a good coffee or a mojito.
Thanks to The Lord of the Rings movies, New Zealand will live on in the hearts and minds of a generation as Middle Earth. The honor is well-deserved, as the Oceanic country will blow you away with diverse landscapes and rich cultural history. The North Island is home to Auckland, the City of Sails, where tourists can walk along the seaside promenade and tour the harbors. Ninety Mile Beach is famously long and a favorite spot for sand-surfers, and you can see some spectacular sunsets if you wait long enough. The South Island is a larger territory, but with national parks, glaciers, mountains, and forests, most of the land is reserved for nature and exploration. Visit Westland National Park to see glaciers up-close at sea level or Queen Charlotte Track for freedom walking. If you're in the mood to relax, soak in the thermal pools at Hanmer Springs.
A Grecian vacation brings to mind inviting beaches and ancient ruins. Greece's natural charm and rich history make it a bucket list destination, but they only represent a small fraction of the country's beauty. If you start your vacation on an island like Sifnos, be sure to tour the surrounding villages. Just up the road from the beaches, you'll find quaint restaurants and lazy cafes. Customers can relax in the shaded squares and enjoy the scenery with a cocktail. The whitewashed buildings in Oia, Santorini, are a familiar sight for tourists. Known for their beautifully contrasting blue and white facades, you're guaranteed to capture some fantastic vacation photos.