Wednesday, 26 February 2020, 16:59
The New Year is upon us - a nostalgic time when we are also full of ideas, hopes and wishes for what's ahead. Probably you've decided you want to travel more in 2020; so here's a little inspiration for planning that trip you've always promised yourself.
No doubt you're thinking, "Antarctica; really?!" Admittedly it's ambitious to make a journey to the planet's southernmost continent. Also, if you really are up for such an adventure to the icy south pole then the truth is that you need to start planning for 2021 as January is high season, and many expeditions and cruises will already be booked with travellers wishing to follow, metaphorically speaking, in the footsteps of famous naval explorers, Scott and Shackleton.
January is 'summer' across the Great White Continent, when waterways open up to specialist cruises (typically departing from Argentina). Temperatures can average around 15 degrees centigrade at this time of year, and it's one of the best months to see the wildlife of the peninsula, and surrounding islands.
During days of 20 plus hours of sunlight you're promised to see not only dramatic scenes of icebergs but also penguins and their fluffy chicks, humpback whales as well as seabirds.
Over recent years these idyllic 'desert islands' in the Indian ocean have become more accessible than ever, as the government has opened more of the once uninhabited islands to upscale spa resort tourism. Said to be the flattest country on earth, rising sea levels threaten many of the 1,192 coral islands that make up the 26 atolls of the Republic.
So now is the time for that Maldives holiday. Expect exceptional beaches and clear waters with abundant sea life. It's the place for snorkelling, scuba diving, windsurfing or even taking a seaplane tour. The Maldives make for a unique holiday experience that can be easily combined with a trip to Dubai or Singapore.
Mexico has been one of my favourite destinations of 2019, when I stayed in the Spanish colonial city of San Miguel de Allende. This North American country is far larger than many expect, with such remarkable diversity.
Despite concerns about security, much of Mexico is safe for international travellers. If you like the idea of romantic colonial cities, also consider Puebla and Oaxaca, both with postcard perfect architecture and fascinating culture. They are close to the Unesco biosphere of Tehuacán-Cuicatlán, which, with its forests of cacti, is considered the most biodiverse area in North America.
With the 2020 Summer Olympic Games coming to Tokyo, the world's attention will be focused on this remarkable island nation.
Japan has never been easier to explore. English is widely spoken in the hospitality sector and also used across public transport signage and information screens. Although Tokyo and Kyoto are the tourist hotspots in April with the Sakura cherry blossom season, also try to head north or south to get really immersed in the culture.
The northern part of Honshü, Japan's main island, is eager to welcome back visitors, following the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. It's a land of forests and volcanos.
Or travel to Kyushu, the southernmost of the main islands, with stunning volcanic scenery, hot springs spa hotels and the chance to travel on the Seven Stars Cruising Train, one of the most luxurious in the world.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
This former Yugoslavian nation is finally getting its moment in the spotlight. While neighbouring Croatia is heading for over-tourism, Bosnia and Herzegovina has until recently been largely ignored. Mostar's rebuilt bridge is a recognisable icon, but go beyond, to discover the wine country and architectural charm of Sarajevo.
June is my favourite month in the UK; the countryside is so verdant, the weather is usually good and it's still not overly busy with international visitors. A favourite itinerary is a road-trip through Scotland, staying at B&Bs. Or, as Lonely Planet recently recommended, discover part of England's Coast Path. Building on the success of the Wales Coast Path, this trail is set for completion in 2020, making it the longest trail in Europe.
The north west of Spain is probably not blessed with the peninsula's best climate, but it remains one of my all-time favourite parts of the country. Asturias has an outstanding greenway route evocatively called the 'Senda del Oso' or Bear Trail. This greenway runs the course of a former mining railway, making it an ideal hiking or cycling holiday through some of Spain's most spectacular scenery. The route also passes some of the Cercados Oseros, (secured, natural reserves for bears) where Cantabrian brown bears are being reintroduced and nurtured in the wild.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was said to have been inspired by Guyana's rainforests, waterfalls and savannahs for his science fiction novel, The Lost World. Although you won't find any dinosaurs here, you might well see some of South America's giants including giant river otters, giant anteaters, as well as jaguars.
Talking of impressive, Guyana is also home to the mighty Kaieteur Falls - the world's largest single-drop waterfall.
Uzbekistan, at the heart of the Silk Road, is a central Asian nation with a captivating, storied history. Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand are iconic cities of the ancient Silk Road trade route, and thanks to the country now being visa-free for European visitors, they are much easier to visit.
See first-hand Samarkand's breathtaking old-world Islamic architecture and the ornate soviet-style metro stations of Tashkent; and tuck into the delicious Uzbek cuisine that reflects centuries of cultures colliding.
The Eurovision Song Contest 2019 was hosted in Tel Aviv - just in case you missed that! Statistics suggested that 182 million people didn't miss the televised concerts and the media attention certainly put Israel back on the tourist map.
Tel Aviv, probably the most progressive and open city in the Middle East, is known for its International Style/Bauhaus period architecture in the Unesco World Heritage White City area, as well as museums, galleries and sophisticated nightlife. The city also boasts Mediterranean beaches - a great place to enjoy some autumn sunshine. A Tel Aviv city break can also be combined with trips to the port of Jaffa and beyond to Jerusalem, the city considered holy by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
North Africa is so close to Europe yet retains its unique, exotic appeal. Marrakech is set to be African City of Culture 2020; Fes, the former Imperial Capital, is the city to visit for the most remarkable ancient medina; and Tangier has emerged as the must-visit city in Morocco.
Tangier has undergone an outstanding renaissance with new hotels and improved infrastructure including a new port and the high-speed train service to Casablanca.
The islands of eternal spring are a pleasure to visit throughout the year, although Tenerife and Gran Canaria remain firm favourites for winter sun, with a choice of short-haul flights and accommodation to match various budgets.
If you're looking to travel a little off the beaten trail, then from Tenerife or Gran Canaria it is possible to take a short flight to the lesser known islands such as El Hierro, for memorable volcanic scenery and wild nature; and La Gomera for the Unesco biosphere nature of laurel forests and unusual geology.
Wishing you all safe and happy travels in 2020!
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