13 January 2014 by David Ward
Plan your travels for the year ahead with some old favourites and a sprinkling of the unexpected
With 2013 now a fading memory and the New Year well under way, we've asked our well-travelled country specialists to put their heads together and come up with a list of must-visit destinations for the year ahead. So, after much heated debate we can now reveal, in no particular order, our top ten destinations for 2014.
As far as year-round destinations go it doesn't get much better than Norway. The warm summer months are ideal for hiking and cycling amongst the spectacular landscapes of western Norway's beautiful fjords, or enjoying the endless days of the Arctic summer in the stunning Lofoten Islands or amidst the beautiful isolation of Spitsbergen in the remote Svalbard archipelago. And when winter arrives the fun continues with a host of exciting activities including snowmobile and husky safaris, ice fishing, cross country skiing and nighttime adventures in search of the Northern Lights.
Is Montenegro the new Croatia? Set against a backdrop of rugged mountains, medieval towns and the crystalline waters of the Adriatic, it certainly has much in common with its illustrious neighbour to the north. And with a wonderful blend of beach and touring, including Tito's Train - one of the world's great lost rail journeys - it won't be long until the crowds come flocking. See it now before its too late.
Sandwiched between Estonia and Lithuania on the shores of the Baltic Sea, Latvia is at first glance one of the more surprising entries on our must-see list for 2014. However, like a long-buried treasure, Latvia is slowly coming to the world's attention, brushing off the cobwebs of its Soviet past and embracing the future with a verve and confidence that's certain to turn it into one of the stars of the European travel scene. From the historic capital Riga - the 2014 European Capital of Culture - where you'll find an incredible blend of Gothic, Baroque, Classical and Art Nouveau architecture, to the gorgeous beaches and pine-scented forests of the Livonian Coast this is off-the-beaten-track travel at its very best.
If spectacular volcanic peaks, vast swathes of wildlife-rich virgin rainforest, colourful colonial towns and an abundance of deserted Caribbean and Pacific coast beaches sounds like your thing, you could do far worse than to pack your bags and head to Nicaragua, Central America's newest eco-tourism hotspot. Just think Costa Rica, but without the crowds.
Tried, tested and still utterly brilliant. Whether you're basking in the sun on Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana Beach, dancing to the samba beat on the streets of Salvador, or cruising into the heart of the Amazonian rainforest, Brazil is one of those destinations that, no matter how many times you visit, will surprise, thrill and amaze in equal measure. And with the World Cup fast approaching there's never been a better time to experience the music, beaches, cities and wildlife of this remarkable, captivating, football-mad country.
The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Nowhere in the world does nature quite like the Galapagos Islands; a remote, wildlife-rich archipelago located 1,000 kilometres from Ecuador's Pacific coast. Discover the island's moon-like volcanic landscapes as you come face to face with giant tortoise, sea lions, marine iguanas, lava lizards, penguins, sharks and the ubiquitous blue-footed boobies that make the Galapagos one of the best and most unique places to view wildlife anywhere in the world.
2014 is going to be quite a year for South Africa. The recent death of Nelson Mandela has bought the country's remarkable recent history into sharp focus and added extra poignancy to a year that was already set to mark both the 50th year of the great man's incarceration on Robben Island and the 20th year since his inauguration as president. So while a trip to South Africa in 2014 may be tinged with sadness, it's also certain to be a time of celebration, when those lucky enough to visit can expect to enjoy the world-class combination of culture, wildlife, food and wine, which continue to make South Africa one of the most exciting destinations on earth.
At times challenging, but always exciting and adventurous, Zambia is the 'real' Africa, where warm, welcoming people and a myriad of natural attractions - including the spectacular Victoria Falls - pave the way for one of the continents most rewarding travel destinations. Here you'll find some of Africa's best national parks and reserves where an abundance of wildlife and relatively few visitors ensure a safari experience to rival any of Zambia's more famous cousins.
Burma remains high on many peoples travel bucket lists, and retains its place as one of our must-see destinations for the second year running. With its incredible mix of history, culture, landscapes and idyllic coastline, Burma's burgeoning tourism industry remains very much on an upward trajectory. Find out what all the fuss is about in 2014 as you explore the best of Burma on either an escorted or tailor-made tour, taking in the ancient temples of Pagan, the golden pagodas of Rangoon, the romanticism of Mandalay and the hill tribes of Inle Lake.
Chengdu, the laid back capital of China's Sichuan province, which plays host to the country's leading Panda rehab centre, a host of impressive Buddhist and Taoist shrines, a long standing teahouse culture and some fantastic and fiery regional cuisine has long been part of China's well-trodden tourist trail. Yet despite its size - the city itself has a population of 13 million - Chengdu has managed to retain a charm rarely found in China's other supercities, making it an idea addition to any China touring itinerary. The introduction of a 72-hour visa-free policy - only the fourth city to do so after Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou - should only serve to enhance Chengdu's status as one of China's fastest growing travel hotspots.