A new year—a new decade—is upon us, and with that comes new goals. And while there’s always room for resolution-inspired improvements, one thing we should all be promising ourselves is to explore the world a little more.
But what makes a country or city worth visiting right now? Major events like the Olympic Games, new flights that make it easier than ever to reach a beloved city, and a flurry of exciting new hotels popping up in one place all play a role. But it’s best to remember that traveling can be so much more than just a vacation. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with lounging on the beach and sipping something fruity out of a pineapple, travel allows us to open our eyes to different cultures, learn about other ways of life, build empathy, and embark on life-changing experiences. With that in mind, we’ve chosen destinations that will spark your wanderlust and create lasting memories. From seeing silverbacks in the wild jungles of Rwanda to navigating the curiosities and wonders of Japan, you’ll want to add these 10 places to your 2020 list.
Baja California’s East Cape, Mexico
Over the past few years, Los Cabos—and particularly Cabo San Lucas—has welcomed a plethora of new ritzy resorts, shedding its reputation as a spring break destination for a more polished beach getaway catering to well-heeled jet-setters. And while the southern tip of Baja California’s peninsula is better than ever for fun and sun, next year is when vacationers will begin flocking up to the East Cape for an escape. Right now, the 1,000-acre resort community of Costa Palmas with access to two miles of swimmable beach, a private marina, and its own 18-hole golf course is where you’ll find all of the action. And with a new Four Seasons recently opening its doors in October, you’ll have a sumptuous place to stay in any one of its 141 accommodations, all offering private terraces with views of the Sea of Cortez. While on property grounds, there are five restaurant options, four pools, a nearly 16,000-square-foot spa, and a comprehensive sports complex to keep you entertained. But you’ll definitely want to head out to both land and sea, where the former promises thrilling adventure and the latter is a UNESCO World Heritage site teeming with so much biodiversity that Jacques Cousteau called it “the aquarium of the world.” Make sure to keep an eye on this place as Aman will also be making its Mexico debut in 2021, in its own corner of Costa Palmas.
The Kingdom of Bhutan continues to top our list of where to go, and for good reason. The country only began allowing visitors in 1974, and it still remains one of the most unchanged destinations in the world. As we start a new decade, Geordie Mackay Lewis—cofounder and managing director of Pelorus, a company specializing in experiential travel and yacht expeditions—is encouraging travelers to “step away from the pressure of modern life and consider the wellness of your mind, body, and soul.” He adds that “Bhutan is a destination that offers a sense of escapism, is spiritually engaging, and physically rewarding. It is truly a place to reflect and find peace. Along with the many new developments of hotels you will also find additional infrastructure such as paved roads and hydropower development making your travels easier than ever before.” Such new hotels include Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary, a hotel that arrived in August 2018 with an all-inclusive wellness offering; Six Senses Bhutan, which began opening its lodges this past February, with its final fifth property in Bumthang slated for spring 2020; and andBeyond Punakha River Lodge that’s estimated for completion by midyear.
On December 15, United Airlines launched the only non-stop route from the United States to Cape Town. Flying in and out of Newark Liberty International Airport, the new seasonal flight cuts a trip to the South African capital by about four hours each way, making it easier than ever to get to the coastal destination. From its sunny beaches to its craggy mountain range, there is beauty every direction you look. But aside from its captivating looks, you’ll find a place that’s teeming with a thriving food and art scene. No visit would be complete without hiking up Table Mountain (or ascending by cable car if you’re pressed for time); stopping by Zeitz MOCAA, the largest museum featuring contemporary African art in the world; and ferrying over to Robben Island, where former South African president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. And there’s no shortage of elegant places to stay while you’re in town, including the intimate Ellerman House that doubles as a private art gallery; the eclectic Silo Hotel in the heart of Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront district; and the recently revamped Marly boasting a rooftop pool and lounge with jaw-dropping views. While you’re in the country, consider jetting over to Kruger National Park and rounding out your experience with a safari while staying at one of the two exceptional lodges that sustainably minded Singita has within their 33,000-acre private concession.
When Hurricane Maria pummeled her way through the Caribbean in 2017, Dominica was among the islands that sustained an immense amount of damage. But the tiny country, dubbed the region’s “Nature Island,” has now rebounded with exceptional new offerings for tourists. Eco-hideaway Secret Bay, perched on the northwest side of the isle where you feel as though nothing else exists in the world, reopened last year with a new on-site restaurant, wellness center, and two-story villa to join its existing five that have since been revamped. This past October, Kempinski hotel group made its first foray into the Caribbean with Cabrits Resort & Spa, becoming one of Dominica’s few true beach resorts, while Anichi Resort & Spa, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, is slated to open next year. Tranquility Beach Resort, a Curio Collection by Hilton has also been announced and will be arriving in the near future. Trek through its rainforests, hike up to the world’s second-largest boiling lake, sail around the tiny island, and enjoy this lesser-known side of the Caribbean.
All eyes are on Japan as the 2020 Summer Olympics take place in Tokyo. And while the country’s vibrant capital is a must, take this opportunity to go beyond the bustling metropolis and venture to other noteworthy locales such as Mie Prefecture to uncover the ancient tradition of free-diving women known as ama or scenic Hokkaido to escape the summer humidity while admiring rainbow-like flower fields at their peak. The ever-popular Kyoto, beloved for its historic atmosphere and century-old shrines and temples, should also top your list and the city now has more luxury accommodations than ever with recent arrivals like Aman Kyoto, Sowaka, Park Hyatt Kyoto, and a forthcoming Kengo Kuma–designed Ace Hotel Kyoto opening in the spring. But there are also plenty of exceptional new offerings throughout the island nation such as Zenagi and Risonare Nasu, providing travelers a unique way to see Japan through tailored expeditions and interactive agricultural activities, respectively. As you travel around, indulge in the fantastic food that goes well beyond sushi, admire the contrast of modernity and heritage, and don’t worry about things getting lost in translation—it’s inevitable, but the locals will still do their best to help. Plus, there’s always Google Translate.
To quote Audrey Hepburn, “Paris is always a good idea,” and it’s becoming an even better one for hotel lovers. This year the French capital saw noteworthy openings such as the design-forward boutique property Cour des Vosges in the Marais, and J.K. Place Paris—the brand’s first foray outside of Italy—on the Left Bank. Meanwhile, beloved Palace hotels like the Four Seasons Hotel George V continue to up the ante: There’s a revamped menu at Michelin-starred L’Orangerie that shines a spotlight on inventive plant- and fish-based dishes; continued implementation of more sustainable practices to reduce food waste by Michelin-starred restaurant Le George; a pair of new elegant suites fit for families; and exclusive experiences including visits to Petrossian’s caviar facility and cruises down the Seine on your own private boat. But next year will mark the arrival of luxurious properties by LVMH-owned Cheval Blanc and Bulgari in addition to the highly anticipated Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle, right outside the city. Opening in the spring, Le Grand Contrôle will have just 14 rooms and suites, an Alain Ducasse restaurant, a spa by Valmont, and an indoor pool spread across three historic buildings built in 1681 by Louis XIV’s favorite architect, Jules-Hardouin Mansart. Guests will have behind-the-scenes access to the Domaine de Versailles and will be able to wander freely around the French gardens like they’ve never been able to before. How’s that for following in the footsteps of Marie Antoinette?
For Natasha Hoskins, founder of travel curation site Allcall, a boat excursion down the Amazon is at the top of her 2020 list. “There’s an easy connection from Lima to Iquitos and within two hours from landing you’ll be heading down the Amazon River in a luxury vessel [operated by Delfin]. Think boutique hotel on a yacht as opposed to a cruise.” This fully immersive experience includes elevated traditional Pervusian dishes and daily excursions deep within the remote Amazon rainforest. For the new year, Delfin Amazon Cruises is offering two special four-day voyages aboard the 22-suite Delfin III with Dr. Joanna Alfaro, a marine biologist specializing in pink river dolphins. It’s the perfect chance to learn about and admire these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat with a professional.
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
The remote Indonesian archipelago of Raja Ampat has remained virtually untouched and has “one of the most pristine and biodiverse marine areas on Earth,” says Melissa Biggs Bradley, CEO and founder of the members-only, boutique travel-planning company Indagare. And with Aqua Expeditions’ new ship, Aqua Blu, travelers will “have access to some of the best snorkeling and diving sites in the world, [explore] hidden jungle caves and giant sea caverns, and experience ancient Papua traditions” all while traveling in style. The refurbished yacht—which was originally built as a British Royal Navy explorer and later became a private vessel for a European aristocratic family—offers 15 plush sea-facing suites, four decks with communal spaces to relax and mingle with fellow explorers, and is equipped with Quantum Zero Speed stabilizers to provide the utmost comfort while sailing. And with a crew-to-guest ratio that’s nearly one to one, top-notch service is guaranteed.
Following its horrific genocide in 1994, the East African country has made leaps and bounds to recover from its tragic history, becoming a destination that’s focused on protecting its lush vegetation and precious wildlife. Rwanda’s immense strides in conversation are continuing with Gishwati Mukura, its fourth national park that will open for tourism next year. The biggest draw here is undoubtedly the opportunity to observe the endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat, and now with the highly anticipated Singita Kwitonda Lodge on the edge of Volcanoes National Park and One&Only Gorilla’s Nest in the foothills of the Virunga Volcano Range recently opened in August and November, respectively, there are some seriously posh digs for lounging between life-changing treks. But don’t forget that the country’s Akagera National Park is also home to the Big Five, including the elusive and critically endangered black rhino. With the arrival of Magashi Camp earlier this year—which is operated by Wilderness Safaris, the same masterminds behind the exquisite Bisate Lodge near Volcanoes National Park—discerning travelers finally have a well-appointed safari accommodation to call their home base while keeping their eyes peeled for lions, leopards, and the rare swamp-dwelling antelope known as the sitatunga.
Semuc Champey, Guatemala
For those in search of a more untrodden locale, bespoke luxury travel operator Black Tomato recommends a location tucked deep in the Guatemalan jungle. “This almost paradisiacal hidden gem lies largely undiscovered except for locals in the know,” says Tom Marchant, the company’s cofounder. “Semuc Champey is home to a swathe of out-of-this-world turquoise pools that are formed atop a naturally formed limestone bridge—truly an untapped world wonder. It’s not the easiest place to get to, but well worth the trek.” While the area has lacked comfortable accommodations, Black Tomato has teamed up with their partners on the ground to exclusively offer their clients mobile, safari-style tents complete with beds so that “they can soak up the natural beauty in comfort.” Marchant adds that travelers must go “spelunking in the subterranean, cathedral-like caves” while out in this remote part of Guatemala. It promises to be an adventure unlike any other.
Originally Appeared on Vogue