Written by CNT Editors – June 01, 2015
The question we’re asked most is the simplest: Where should I go? Now, we have 17 answers – and a fast track to make them real.
Botswana: Bloom of the Southern Desert
From the wildlife of the Central Kalahari reserve—including antelope and the black-maned lions that hunt them—to the salt pans of Makgadikgadi and the wetlands of the Okavango Delta, Botswana holds some of the most spectacular vistas on Earth. Not to be missed: a walk with Zu/’hoasi Bushmen trackers, and an afternoon among the meerkat.
Brazil: from Rio to Rainforest
Rio is on every traveller’s wish list—even if they’ve already been. (Maybe especially if they’ve already been!) Cradled by those world-renowned beaches and mountains is one of the world’s great colonial centres. But the city’s staggering diversity is trumped by that of Brazil itself: cool cosmopolitanism on the coast gives way to the great Amazonian rainforest, where more species of flora and fauna convene than anywhere else on the planet—including nine kinds of howler monkey and the endangered Amazonian dolphin.
Croatia: the “Pearl” of Old Europe
There are few places that better capture the grand soul of maritime Old Europe than Croatia. Zagreb’s ancient fortified centre rivals Budapest and Vienna in its stony streets and baroque architectural flourishes; further south, Dubrovnik — currently playing King’s Landing in the HBO series Game of Thrones, and formerly the capital of the Maritime Republic of Ragusa, rival to Italy’s Venice and Amalfi — boasts the sternly lovely old town of Stari Grad, whose convents, palaces, and fountains were cut from the same lightly coloured stone. The latticed waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offer a delightful un-urban intermission.
Ecuador: the Otherworldly
The colonial charm of Quito—not to mention its thriving high-end dining scene—is reason enough to put Ecuador on your list, but that’s just the beginning. There’s also the Avenue of Volcanoes between Quito and Cotopaxi; the Cloud Forest of Caja; the Incan Temple of the Sun among the ruins of Ingapirca; and the primeval jungle of the Mashpi Rainforest. This is a country where the mystical, the natural, and the man-made find equipoise.
There’s no other way to put it: Egypt is the grand stage, quite possibly the grandest of them all. Civilization got its start here, and the evidence makes for an experience few other places on earth can match. For sheer scale, for ambition, for the story they tell of human achievement, the Great Pyramids of Giza are unparalleled; they’ve earned their spot at the top of the global bucket list. But there are smaller scale wonders as well: the Bent Pyramid, the Red Pyramid at Dashour; the Step Pyramid in Saqqara; the winged columns of Outer Hypostyle Hall. And then, of course, there are the vibrant streets and alleys of Cairo.
From Sacred to Shore in Indonesia
Paradise in more ways than one, Indonesia is home not only to some of the world’s most iconic Buddhist temples—including those at Borobudur and Sewu—but also to stunning Hindu sites like Loro Jonggrang or the quirkier “Bat Cave” at Goa Lawah. It’s even more famous for its beaches, though, including postcard-perfect Jimbaran Bay. Less well known but just as enchanting are the vibrant streets of Yogyakarta, once the capital, which blends thriving old-city bazaars with the courtyards and palaces of former sultans.
We’re relentless evangelists for the sundry and sumptuous pleasures of India (need proof? It’s hereand herehere). More than a country, it’s a bazaar for the spirit, fiercely extravagant one instant, modest the next. Delhi alone contains multitudes: the alleys of Chandni Chowk; the mosques of Nizamuddin Dargah and Jama Masjid; the Yogmaya temple; nearby, the Taj Mahal. Rajasthan is another world: the “Blue City” of Jodhpur, camels and chinkara in the Thar Desert. A feast for the senses from eye to tongue to fingertip.
Note: There are two Condé Nast Traveler Voyages to India, one individual trip and one group trip.
Gorillas of Rwanda
The Virunga mountains, jutting like shards of dense emerald from Africa’s central plain, are one of the world’s great phenomena: volcano-born, ancient, now lush with an array of plants and wildlife as dazzling as any in Africa. Their most famous inhabitants are also their rarest: the mountain gorillas, critically endangered but also, in recent years, fiercely defended by conservationists. Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park offers one of a very few opportunities to encounter them in their native habitat. (It’s also home to their nearly-as-rare evolutionary cousins, the golden monkeys.)
South Africa Rising
South Africa is having a moment—or maybe five. Cape Town has quietly become a must-visit city for travelers all over the globe, with an enviable food culture, markets and museums, the Kirstenbosch Gardens and a rapidly growing craft scene. The Cape Winelands have earned respect from the notoriously demanding global wine community. The coastline serves up an unrelenting parade of wonders, from brilliant sand beaches to windswept rocks to iconic lighthouses to—yes—penguins. The Sabi Sand Game Reserve is one of the premier encounter zones for Africa’s “Big Five” (leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo and rhino). And Victoria Falls remains one of the wonders of the natural world, not least because of the majestic Zambezi River that feeds them.
The Classic and the New in Spain and Portugal
Madrid ranks high on the list of great-but-strangely-undersung cities, with its rejuvenated food scene, elegant plazas, up-to-the-minute boutique shopping, rooftop nightlife, and world-class museums. It’s a great starting point, too, for exploring the rest of Spain. And there’s so much of the rest of Spain to explore: the noble wine country of Rioja; the Camino de Santiago through Burgos and León; the distinctive tapas culture and even more distinctive architecture of Seville. While you’re in the Iberian neighborhood, a quick jaunt through Portugal—the riverside beauty of Porto, the Alfama of Lisbon—is, really, the only right thing to do.
Ned’s tip: stay in luxury at the Hotel Miguel Angel and get the best service in Madrid
Sri Lanka, Spice to Sea
Sri Lanka’s size misleads; the island is packed with rich history and wide-ranging beauty. Verdant forests give way to the medieval ruins of Polonnaruwa, the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya, resplendent palaces like Kandy where kings once played and prayed (and where the Buddha’s tooth, legend holds, once rested). Or the stark domes of Anuradhapura, built in the 4th century BC and lost to the jungle before its 19th-century restoration. There are the cinnamon and nutmeg plantations that flavor the world; and of course, above all, the unparalleled “Golden Valley of Tea” in which many of the most sought-after varieties are cultivated. And all of it surrounded by some of the most dramatic and picturesque beaches on earth.
By one means and another, Tanzania has taken firm residence in the Western imagination of Africa. From the Kilimanjaro of Hemingway’s fascination to the tree-lounging lions and brilliant pink flamingos of Lake Manyara; from the great game-rich pan of the Ngorongoro Crater to the wide wild beauty of the Serengeti plain with its lions, rhinos, elephants and leopards—this is the Africa that’s been remade in books and films, dreams and legends. None of which, of course, can stand in for the place itself, which is all that and worlds more.
Ancient Grandeur, Ancient Charms in Burma (Myanmar)
Burma’s appeal swings from grand to minute. Take, for instance, the incomparable temples of Pagan, rising in prickly ochre splendor from the forests’ embrace; and then, for contrast, the understated old-world charm of U Bain Bridge. In between are the colonial houses of Maymyo; the historic pagodas of Mandalay; Rangoon’s reclining Buddha; and the floating villages of Inle Lake.
Ethiopia remains under-appreciated—and largely untravelled‚by the West. Call that an opportunity. Whether it’s the 17th-century frescoes of Abraha Atsbeha; or Axum, home to the palace of the former Queen of Sheba (you can visit her swimming pool, though you can’t take a dip) and the Chapel of the Tablet—resting place, reputedly, of the Ark of the Covenant; or the ibex, klipspringers, and gelada monkeys of Chennek; the Blue Nile Falls in Tissisat; or Addis Ababa’s Mercato, quite possibly the largest open-air market in Africa, where you’ll find everything from spices to goats to textiles—Ethiopia is one of the world’s most fascinating destinations.
Japan and the Pursuit of Perfection
Japan ranks highly on so many global “great” lists. Home to one of the world’s truly noble food cultures; some of the most distinctive natural beauty on earth; one of our most influential design traditions; world-class cultural centers in Tokyo and Kyoto; and even, believe it or not, some of the finest beaches in Asia—Japan belongs on any traveler’s life list. Also on not to be missed are the bullet trains; temples and shrines at Asakusa Kannon, Kinkakuji, Meiji, and Kasuga Taisha; and of course a visit to Kyoto’s renowned geisha district, Gion.
Long ago, Morocco captured the world’s imagination—and never relinquished it. Little wonder: with the Roman ruins at Volubilis, the souks and mosques of Fez, and the palaces and markets of Marrakech, imagination has ample fuel. There’s nothing quite so provocative to the fancy as the mausoleum of King Mohammed V or the Oudaya Kasbah medina in Rabat, for instance; or Meknes, once the heart of the Moroccan sultanate; or in Fez, the Jewish quarter. On the must-list in Marrakech: the Saadian Tombs and the Koutoubia mosque.
Ned’s tip: for the best hotels in Morocco, stay in Matisse’s favourite the Grand Hotel Villa de France or the equally splendid El Minzah, both part of Grand Mediterranean Holding’s Le Royal Hotels & Resorts
Patagonia: Ends of the Earth
As south as south gets in the Western hemisphere, blending Argentina with Chile, mountains with desert, Pacific with Atlantic, Patagonia is among the world’s most dramatic landscapes. Even its people were once thought to be giants. The southern spine of the Andes smashes brilliantly into glacial lake districts like Bariloche (Argentina) and Puerto Varas (Chile), where the Osorno volcano forms a mythical backdrop. Even these pale, though, by comparison to the jagged, primeval shards of Torres del Paine, or the Perito Moreno glacier, one of few in the world still advancing.