02 Mar The 15 Coolest Places to Go in 2018
The world keeps getting bigger. Every serious traveler I know says their wish list grows longer, not shorter, every time they dip into a new region or hear about where someone else has been.
So how to decide? What’s newly (or still) safe or newly uncovered? What’s hovering between charming sleepiness and overdeveloped soullessness? What must we see before it changes forever? Which places will transform us? And where can we get away from it all and finally get to breathe?
I put those questions to experts at several high-end travel companies. These super-agents knows what they’re talking about, keeping their ears on their clients’ interests and their eyes on the adventures they themselves have in every corner of the world. Here’s what on their radar for next year.
There was already more to the country than Angkor Wat, but 2018 is likely to be the year that makes that known to the world. John Spence, US president of Scott Dunn, says, “an array of new luxury hotel openings will allow travelers to explore some of the lesser-known regions,” some with bone-white beaches. Six Senses and Alila are setting up shop on Krabey Island and Koh Russey, Rosewood is opening a hotel in Phnom Penh (along with Siem Reap), and Bill Bensley’s Shinta Mani Wild tented camp is one of the most hotly anticipated openings in the world.
The Yucatan Peninsula and Mexico City
Black Tomato is a champion of Mexico beyond the expected tourists stops. They’re directing guests toward the interior of the Yucatan, where they can book a full-day helicopter trip to view the Monarch butterfly migration, spend some time (or some days) at the new high-luxe Chablé resort and ride a private hot air balloon over the Teotihuacan ruins, then head back to Mexico City, a dynamic metropolis that has been named as a World Design Capital for 2018.
Indagare founder Melissa Biggs Bradley says Bolivia is “pulsing with the energy of a country on the verge. While the destination is known for its dramatic, otherworldly scenery—the Salar de Uyuni salt flats could be called the southern hemisphere’s Iceland—the cultural capital, La Paz, is just hitting its stride and recently emerged as a foodie capital.” Noma co-founder Claus Meyer’s social-good-minded Gustu now makes the 50 Best list, new destination restaurants are opening, and the new luxury hotels include Atix.
Scott Dunn’s Spence is excited about the less explored parts of the country. Asilia’s new Jabali Ridge in Ruaha National Park—the country’s biggest and least visited national park—is “the ultimate in luxury lodges and has bought a whole new level of accommodation to this area,” he says. Selous, the other compelling game reserve in the south, also has a new Asilia in the form of “a stunning tented camp called Roho Ya Selous, where you can do wonderful walking and boating safaris.”
Going Down Under has never been easier, thanks to new flight routes from London to Perth and Houston to Sydney. Now it’s time to get off the beaten path, says the cofounder and owner of Black Tomato, Tom Marchant. “The region of Hobart epitomizes Tasmania’s remote location and showcases a rugged wilderness, punctuated by a thriving arts scene, hip foodie haunts and flavor-packed wines rivaling those of the mainland. Countless galleries, such as the Mona, position the island as an exciting destination in its own right,” and new places to stay include the urban Macq 01 Hotel and adventure-minded Truffle Lodge.
Asheville, North Carolina
“It’s no secret that America’s southern cities are having a moment,” says Indagare’s Biggs Bradley. “Asheville has a character that is at once hipster and classic Americana.” Cradled by the Blue Ridge Mountains, the city is home to gorgeous scenery (including a lovely botanical garden), historic mansions (the 19th-century Biltmore Estate is the largest private home in the world) and a remarkable arts scene. “Don’t miss Woolworth Walk to shop the works of dozens of local artisans and stop for a milkshake at the preserved luncheonette counter. But Asheville isn’t limited to classic cuisine; hungry travelers can enjoy everything from tapas to innovative cocktails to Asian street food.”
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In 2018 GeoEx will lead its first clients into a country wildly devoid of tourism to explore Zakouma National Park, home to one of the world’s most diverse grassland ecosystems and a massive rehabilitated herd of elephants—a great conservation success story. “We are one of the few tour operators that have been awarded private, weeklong trips in the park,” explains GeoEx safari expert Starla Estrada. “We’ve enlisted a dynamic duo of leaders: legendary safari guide Brad Hansen and Royal Geographic Society member Kingsley Holgate, a globally respected expert on remote African tribes.”
New direct flights from São Paulo to Jericoacoara are opening up this hard-to-reach part of the county. Previously accessible only with 4×4s, motorbikes and dune buggies, Jericoacoara is a tiny fishing village on the northern coast, which until 20 years ago had no road network or electricity and money hardly ever changed hands. The best hotel is the Chili Beach, a laid-back boutique resort situated on the edge of the village. “It’s cool, quirky and boasting brilliant yet discreet service,” says Scott Dunn’s Spence. Also, beginning in January, Americans will be able to apply for electronic visas online.
Technically part of the Kingdom of Denmark, this archipelago is an autonomous country with a culture (and language and currency) all its own. “These cultural offerings are front and center on the global stage at the moment, but swarms of tourists haven’t yet descended,” says Indagare’s Biggs Bradley of the 18 islands between the Norwegian Fjords, Scottish Highlands and Iceland. “Though the entire nation is home to just about 50,000 people, it has fabulous restaurants, one with a Michelin star, that benefit from the islands’ phenomenal access to some of the world’s best seafood.” It also has landscape of surreal mountains and cliffs, countless waterfalls, grass-roofed houses and dramatic oceans—and countless proud puffins, shaggy sheep and diminutive Faroese ponies.
“Nowhere is quite so adventurous, and untouched, as Aysén, Northern Patagonia’s final frontier,” says Black Tomato’s Marchant. The remote, sparsely populated land of vast glaciers, snow-capped peaks and jagged fjords is “a place to disconnect from the world and revel in the splendid isolation that its otherworldly, landscapes inspire.” It’s where Black Tomato’s travel planners send guests who want to escape the crowds of Torres del Paine.
Milan is no longer the stopover destination that it once was, according to Indagare’s Biggs Bradley. “The country’s most modern metropolis has bloomed in recent years as a design mecca. The recent openings of the Prada Foundation and Armani/Silos museum, plus the ongoing success of the yearly Salone del Mobile furniture fair, have put Milan officially on the world’s stage. Add in a collection of ultra-luxurious hotels, fabulous (and innovative) Italian food and some of the best architecture in Europe, and Milan’s momentum shows no signs of stopping.”
Ace trek leader Vassi Koutsaftis, who has guided many of GeoEx’s pioneering adventures, is always on the lookout for ways to take intrepid travelers deeper into Tibet. He created a new trip to do just that, focusing a moderate four-day trek on lush Yangpachen Valley, the 800-year-old Tsurphu Monastery and the colorful celebrations of an annual Buddhist festival. Bookending the trek is time in Lhasa, Shigatse, and Gyantse, where Vassi shares the highlight sites, as well as his favorite local haunts.
Black Tomato’s Marchant says this country is “ripe for discovery. It offers sprawling, wildlife-rich national parks that make for the perfect safari away from the crowds, while the vast expanse of Lake Malawi is the perfect beach retreat with its endless white-sand coastlines and crystal clear waters perfect for snorkeling.” The year 2017 saw the completion of the groundbreaking #500Elephants project, the largest elephant translocation in human history. Alongside these wonderful creatures, Malawi’s Nkhotakota Reserve has received hundreds of other animals. Next year will see the return of the Lake of Stars music festival and the opening of Robin Pope Safari’s new Kuthengo Camp in Liwonde National Park.
Open-minded travelers are slowly returning as the country experiences continuous political stability. Luxury tour operators such as Indagare have reported a swift increase in tourism in the past year. “Egypt’s famous sites are still uncrowded, though,” says Biggs Bradley, “allowing travelers to have meaningful experiences at some of the world’s most notable locations—think horseback riding around the Great Sphinx of Giza and touring pyramids with renowned Egyptologists. And while the country is known for its age-old ancient treasures, new finds continue to be uncovered. Last summer, archeologists discovered two important artifacts: an ancient pyramid and a pharaoh’s head.”
Who Knows Where?
“A journey into the unknown, the mystery trip, your ultimate answer to the sacred call of adventure!” is how Evergreen X founder Jake Haupert describes the EG-X “X for the Unknown”trips he’s launching. His team selects the destination based on in-depth conversations in which guests are encouraged to be vulnerable and share what it is they’re truly seeking. The rest is left to Evergreen X and their deep appreciation for real travel, where you don’t know what lies ahead. “With travelers not privy to the destination until they arrive at the airport, the suspense draws out the dormant explorer inside of them, forcing them to set intentions, be mindful and be prepared for everything,” he says. “Our hope is that by releasing the expectations of place, we’re able to take the journey within, harken back to the roots of travel, slow it down, open it up for unplanned exploration so you can recalibrate your inner compass.”