Ahh, January. A month to attempt to get your shit together, not guzzle wine every night, and, perhaps most importantly, plan out your entire year of travel.
Lonely Planet and Afar Media selected the very best places to travel in 2016. (Lonely Planet released its book Best In Travel 2016 and Afar magazine released its “Where To Go In 2016” issue, also available online.)
Some of these places are celebrating big anniversaries, some are in the midst of a resurgence, and some have landmarks that are nearing extinction — but all of them have something special going on right now. Here are the top 25 places you must travel in 2016. Choose one, or choose them all — whatever you do, happy adventuring!
WHY GO IN 2016: Because this year, Botswana celebrates its 50th year of independence, which is huge. But also, Botswana is just beautiful, a country made primarily of desert and delta, with 17% of its lands devoted to its national parks.
Bonus: Lately, “car park pimping” is on the rise. It’s basically when the clubbers of the capital city Gaborone move the late-night party to suburban car parks, where they set up pop-up DJ tents and rage into the wee hours of the morning.
WHY GO IN 2016: For starters, the government is trying to devalue the Japanese yen, which means that the country is more affordable than ever right now. Also, the 2020 Summer Olympics are being held in Tokyo and, even though that seems far away, the city is already gearing up for all Olympics everything.
Bonus: Japan is just a wild, wild place. Any country where you can literally buy everything from umbrellas to women’s underwear in vending machines (true story) deserves to be explored in this lifetime. Now’s your moment.
3. Any of the national parks, USA
WHY GO IN 2016: Ours is always a land of treasures, but this year is extra special because it’s the 100th anniversary of America’s National Park Service (NPS). So hit upany of the national parks to take in the beauty, the purple mountains majesty, of the good ol’ U.S. of A.
WHY GO IN 2016: Mostly because the country is killing it in the conservation department — which makes it insanely beautiful. “It has as much to fear from rising sea levels and environmental degradation as any other Pacific nation, but it’s tackling those fears head-on, and is leading conservation efforts in the region,” according to Lonely Planet.
That makes its snorkeling and diving some of the best in the world; some people even call it an “underwater Serengeti.”
WHY GO IN 2016: The country is celebrating its 25th year of independence from the Soviet Union this year, and with it, its increasingly on-the-up-and-up culture. “A fleet of (new) Nordic chefs are catapulting local flavors to such artisanal heights that they would truly give Copenhagen a run for its money,” writes Lonely Planet.
Bonus: The country is also known for its pirts, i.e., hot birch saunas where you get showered with wildflowers and indulge in smoked fish and beer, that are not to be missed. SEE YOU THERE!
WHY GO IN 2016: Australia is a perennial favorite that makes nearly every bucket list, ever. But this year just may be the year to really buckle down and book that ticket, because many of its key wildlife areas are under potential distress — so it’s a good idea to see them before it’s potentially too late.
Large parts of the Great Barrier Reef, for instance, may be torn up by a string of proposed mining ports. And some of Tasmania’s forests may be torn up for export.Go now to catch their full beauty while you can!
WHY GO IN 2016: Because this year may be the year the country shines the most. Wildlife tourism is on the rise, Wroclaw is named as a European Capital of Culture (part of which includes an artist-in-residence program to promote artists without borders), and more budget airlines than ever are flying to the country.
If you’re planning to go, you may want to book your trip around Krakow’s Pierogi Festival in mid-August, Warsaw’s International Film Festival in October, or, you know, whenever. Because there’s always vodka.
WHY GO IN 2016: Well of course there’s the fact that weed is legal there. But aside from that, it’s an extremely peaceful place — it’s nicknamed the “Switzerland of America” — and tourism is on the rise (3 million visitors are expected in 2016).
The country has a very bohemian vibe; it’s filled with small surfing villages, empty beaches, and cute beach shacks. And it even has its fair share of cattle ranches and cowboys!
WHY GO IN 2016: The Northern Lights, of course. But perhaps even more than that, it’s a great place to disconnect. Greenland has the world’s lowest population density — it’s about 80% ice-covered — and the cell phone service is so spotty, many people actually use satellite phones.
Also, the food is legit local. The island hardly has transportation, meaning chefs are forced to make do with what they have (like, kelp salad with reindeer bacon).
WHY GO IN 2016: The country has gone through tumultuous times in the past decade, but it’s now back to its original peaceful self, says Lonely Planet.
That peacefulness includes crystal-clear waters to swim in, welcoming singers who serenade you 24/7, and local Fijian music (a mix of hip-hop, reggae, and pop) to keep up your good spirits.
11. The American Southwest
WHY GO IN 2016: As mentioned above, the National Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and the American Southwest in particular is a great place to toast to the occasion. After all, it’s home to Arches, Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon, and Capitol Reef National Parks — and most of those parks roll out special programming to celebrate the big event!
WHY GO IN 2016: The country’s tourism industry took a huge hit following the devastating earthquake in April. But the tour operator company Intrepid Travel partnered with the Nepalese government and a team of experts to analyze the damage, and concluded that it’s actually safe and secure to go there now.
Bonus: Your money will likely directly fund relief efforts, so you’ll kill two birds with one stone, reminds Afar.
WHY GO IN 2016: Newness is on the rise in Tasmania. In 2016, there will be new cruise lines, new hotels, and new hiking trails, such as the new Three Capes Track, a 28-mile hike that takes four days to hike. In sum, Tasmania is in the spotlight this year!
WHY GO IN 2016: Now that the American travel restrictions to Cuba have been lifted, the country has seen a big increase in tourism — and that’s likely to only get bigger, so it’s better to go now before it gets played out. “A new weekend tour from Insight Cuba will also roll out in January, making it even easier for Americans to get a taste of the island without taking too many vacation days,” says Afar.
WHY GO IN 2016: “Portugal is heating up as a cultural hub,” says Afar. For starters, foodies are loving its capital city, Lisbon, which has tons of amazing eats. Also, Porto has a major art scene going on, and the 200-mile beach between Porto and Lisbon is becoming increasingly popular.
But aside from those two cities, Afar says that both locals and visitors are truly loving Portugal’s cute, smaller villages, which are just begging to be explored.
16. Granada, Nicaragua
WHY GO IN 2016: “Granada is quickly becoming the Portland of Nicaragua,” according to Afar. That’s because coffee tourism is growing by the minute, with new cafés popping up throughout the area. What’s more, it’s in a great location. Travelers who want to ditch the city vibe for a minute can take advantage of easy outdoorsy half-day trips, like Las Islets in Lake Nicaragua or the Mombacho Volcano.
WHY GO IN 2016: In the past, going to Mongolia meant really throwing yourself off the beaten path. Like, really. But these days, it’s a destination on the rise. Expert trip companies like Nomadic Expeditions have trips there now, the wildnerness lodges have gotten an upgrade, and a Shangri-La even opened in the capital.
18. East Africa
WHERE TO GO IN 2016: Always wanted to go on a safari? Make this year your year.There are lots of places to choose from, not least Tanzania and Zimbabwe. “In Tanzania, a new fleet of tented safari camps means you can get closer to nature than ever before — without sacrificing luxury.”
“And with a new airport, a stable political climate, and new resorts, Zimbabwe has emerged as a safari destination to be reckoned with,” says Afar.
19. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
WHY GO IN 2016: Go for the party, right? Not always. Cabo is actually in the midst of shedding its party reputation and reinventing itself as a luxury destination. Of course, there are still affordable spots, too — but if you want to totally go all in and pamper yourself fully, this could be your place.
21. Guadalajara, Mexico
WHY GO IN 2016: Guadalajara is “blossoming,” says Afar. In the past year, lots of new boutique hotels have opened, largely due to the city’s big art scene. The city is landlocked, but it’s still great for a winter getaway because it’s loaded with culture. If you go, try to visit in March for the International Film Festival.
22. Southeast Asia
WHY GO IN 2016: Southeast Asia pops up on quite a few bucket lists, and understandably so: It’s affordable once you get there, and filled with tons of culture in every corner. But what’s new this year is a whole bunch of new cruises on the Mekong River. River cruises are a great way to access small towns and villages that were harder to get to previously.
WHY GO IN 2016: Bookings to Iran are on the rise, according to Afar, and it may be time for you to join the club. Check out the capital, Tehran, the ancient literary city, Shiraz, and more. Here’s everything you need to know before you go.
24. New Orleans, Louisiana
WHY GO IN 2016: Because new neighborhoods are booming! The city’s Bywater neighborhood, which is a short ride from the French Quarter on a new streetcar line, is definitely on the rise. Here’s what to do and where to go when you get there.
And of course, the other parts of the city are as fun and spirited as ever — and ready to be enjoyed.
So there you have it: your 2016 to-do list. Start planning!