After enduring the second year in a row in which international travel remained frustratingly complicated or out-of-reach, we all deserve to reach for the stars. (Preferably the ones shining overhead in the Arabian desert of Wadi Rum.) After two-plus years of lockdowns and social distancing, we all deserve a little wanderlust. So let’s do ourselves a favor this year and make resolutions we actually want to keep. We’ve rounded up the 10 most magnificent places you should visit in the New Year (or the years to follow—pandemic permitting). From skiing atop active volcanoes in southwest Japan to body surfing with penguins off the eastern coast of Ecuador, read on to start planning your next bucket list vacation. Happy travels!
1. Wadi Rum, Jordan
Camels in the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan (Adobe Stock)
Wadi Rum is a hidden gem in the Middle Eastern deserts of Jordan. Even if you're a sworn ocean lover, preferring the misty climes of Oregon to the aridity of Arizona, you won't be able to resist the beauty of Wadi Rum. Sign up for a Bedouin-led desert safari, and navigate the canyons while atop a camel, or the back of an old-school Jeep 4x4. Do go off-roading: the rush of running down a sand dune in the Jordanian desert, leaping into the air towards the vast, light blue, Middle Eastern sky, is simply unparalleled. The desert safari is spectacular by day, but come nightfall, prepare to witness the most devastatingly vivid sunset you've ever seen. The sky is aglow in shades of orange and lilac, and the mountains cast monstrous shadows across the sand as the stars twinkle overhead with the fury and brightness of the Northern Lights.
2. The Galapagos Islands
Wild Turtle in the Galapagos Islands (Adobe Stock)
The Galapagos is a wildlife lover's paradise. Head to the Galapagos to witness creatures that exist nowhere else in the world. Swim with sea lions, sunbathe with iguanas, and live out your Planet Earth fantasies. Snorkel with sharks off the coast of Isabel Island before heading over to Ferdinand Island to frolic with the world's smallest penguins. And be sure to take a selfie with one of the island's famed tortoises before you leave. 'No new friends,' Drake? We beg to disagree.
3. Cartagena, Colombia
Old Town Cartagena, Colombia (Adobe Stock)
This port city situated on Colombia's Caribbean coast offers the best of both worlds (or vibes, to quote Drake once again) the Latin flavor of South America with the tropical ambiance of the Islands. The walled Old Town has enough charming cobblestone to rival the streets of Rome, and the lush beaches of Isla de Bare and the Islas del Rosario are a mere boat ride away.
4. The Maltese Islands
Gozo Island, Malta (Adobe Stock)
In our estimation, Malta is one of the most underrated, undiscovered places on Earth--to Americans, at least. The islands of Malta, Gozo, and Comino have been European destinations for quite some time, not to mention backdrops to films like Troy. When I told the patron of a family-owned cafe that I was from America, he was so shocked that he dropped my kebab. Don't worry, he gave me the second one for free. Malta is the third-most generous country in the world, after all. That is a fact: you can look it up.
5. Blue Mountains, Jamaica
Blue Mountains, Jamaica (Adobe Stock)
Speaking of countries where the hospitality is legendary, (shout-out to Phillip Linton, the best man to know in Kingston), we've reached our next spot: The Blue Mountains, in Jamaica. If you've ever flown into Kingston, you've surely noticed those blue giants, their azure haze cast by eucalyptus oil. Maybe you were headed to Montego Bay, but we encourage you to stay awhile longer. According to many locals, the mountains are named for their view from above (not down below): When you're up there, all you see is blue. We recommend heading to Strawberry Hill to find out why. If you have the means, we highly suggest it.
6. Ambergris Caye, Belize
Ambergris Caye, Belize (Adobe Stock)
Ambergris Caye is the largest island in Belize, with the Belize Barrier Reef waiting to be discovered right off the eastern shore. Book your trip and snorkel or scuba dive the second-longest barrier reef in the world and the longest in the Western Hemisphere. Time is of the essence with this vacation, (unless Leo DiCaprio manages to save the oceans by next summer), so book your trip now.
7. Fiordland, New Zealand
Boat Cruise in Fiordland, New Zealand (Adobe Stock)
Go on a road trip through New Zealand's Fiordland National Park to treat yourself to one of the most spectacular vistas on the planet (see left). The snow-capped mountain range rivals the Tetons (the teenagers of the American Rockies), and the dramatic, jagged peaks are reminiscent of another destination on our list, locale #9 to be exact.
8. The Scottish Highlands
Sango Beach, Scotland (Adobe Stock)
Stay in a treehouse, or a wigwam, or a Celtic castle, if you like, in Scotland. Tourism to the Highlands is booming, and the accommodations are becoming more and more unique to cater to their increasingly adventurous clientele. Why not opt for glamping beneath the stars? All the better to see the Northern Lights this year.
9. Dolomites, Italy
Val di Funes, Dolomites, Italy (Adobe Stock)
Now that Call Me by Your Name has officially established Northern Italy as the most romantic destination of the year, why not check out the Dolomites in the Northeastern regions of the country? Start your trip in Milan before heading up to the Italian Alps (which, unlike the Swiss Alps, are still in favor). Word to the wise: hiking these mountains in the middle of the summer is a sweat-inducing feat, so pack (and prepare) accordingly.
10. Niseko, Japan
Ski run near Mt. Yotei, Niseko, Japan (Adobe Stock)
The Swiss Alps are so last decade. Everyone knows that it's all about skiing in Japan these days, and there's no better place to do it than the slopes of Mt. Niseko-Annupuri. What's more thrilling than skiing on an active volcano? It hasn't erupted in about 6,000 years, but who's counting? The lava still flows underneath all the powder. For après, forgo the hot tub and opt for one of the natural hot spring resorts, or 'onsen' for those in the know. As you soon will be. Happy trails!