I thought about writing a post featuring the destinations I think people should consider visiting in 2013 but then I realized the limitations to that exercise, namely the fact I haven’t been everywhere. So in order to provide a well rounded list of places I asked several bloggers to submit their candidate for the best travel destination to visit in 2013. Enjoy!
1. Ghent – Matt Long LandLopers.com
My pick is the often overlooked Flemish city of Ghent in Belgium. I first visited Ghent in 2011 and was honestly underwhelmed. I blamed myself; I hadn’t done proper research and it showed when we got off the train and had no idea what to do. We ultimately left feeling let down, but determined to return. Thanks to good timing I had that chance just a few days ago and what a difference a year and some planning makes. Sure, Ghent may not have the bells and whistles of some other cities in the region, but it is an absolute must visit city in Belgium. From the canal side cafes and shops to the massive St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent isn’t just a lovely city it’s an energetic one that never fails to disappoint. Unlike Bruges Ghent feels like a real city and not a theme park and the opportunity to walk around and experience real life in Flemish Belgium makes this a must visit destination in 2013.
2. North Korea – Nellie Huang, Wild Junket
Since the end of World War II, DPRK has closed its doors to the outside world. But these days, tourists are slowly allowed into the country – around 2,500 Western tourists (not including the Chinese) visit each year. I traveled with Koryo Tours to North Korea this summer and learned quite a few lessons. We were surprised to find how locals were as curious about us as we were of theirs. On the subway, we even interacted with people, showing them our photos and talking to them about our family and stuff. You can’t fully understand the Hermit Kingdom until you see it for yourself. Go before things start getting shaky again, and visit with an open mind.
3. Fuerteventura, Canary Islands – Spencer Spellman, The Traveling Philosopher
Spend any length of time on the island of Fuerteventura, the second largest of the Canary Islands, and you’ll wonder if the place doesn’t have an identity crisis. While its beautiful white sandy beaches, numerous breaks, and turquoise waters may be reminiscent of Hawaii (It even has its own North Shore), the landscape makes you wonder how similar it is to Mars. Yet lovers of Spanish tapas and wine have no problem stopping and staying a while. A popular destination among Western Europe vacationers, it’s rather undiscovered by other regions of the world. Yet with conditions that make for good surfing, kiteboarding, and windsurfing year-round and tasty Spanish food on the cheap, Fuerteventura is hard to overlook.
4. Qingdao, China – Sally Thelen, UnbraveGirl
Qingdao in Eastern China is not jam-packed with historic relics like Beijing. It definitely lacks the cosmopolitan sparkle of Shanghai. And, while it is home to a number of pretty beaches, they are not much to write home about or even, say, to write a blog post about (unless you’re like me and write blog posts about pretty much anything… including pants). But Qingdao does have a number of quirky places of interest, including the Tsingtao Brewery and Beer Museum, where you can learn about how beer is made or, if you’re not so much into learning, just drink a few pints. Qingdao also has some of the finest food I ate in China, including fresh seafood, spicy tofu, hotpot and, for reasons I did not comprehend, cream puffs. And, while it may not be on every foreign tourist’s must-see list, it’s a popular place for Chinese tourists, so once you’re full of beer and cream puffs, head to the boardwalk and check out the hoards of vacationers, while, they, in turn, check you out. This is China, after all, and staring is encouraged.
5. Gangwon, South Korea – Tom Stockwell, Waegook Tom
Usually in the news due to predictions of impending annihilation from the bratty regime north of the border, South Korea isn’t often thought of as a tourist destination and, when it is, people tend to think of Seoul and little more. They’re missing out.
My top pick for 2013 is South Korea’s Gangwon province, in the country’s rural northeast. Chuncheon is the region’s capital and a lot more cosmopolitan than the rest of the province, so a great starting point, and the home of dalkgalbi (a spicy Korean stew). Sokcho on the east coast is home to Seoraksan, with the surrounding national park providing amazing hiking opportunities and stunning views in the mountains – over 60% of South Korea is covered in mountains. A little further down the coast is Samcheok, home to sandy beaches, super fresh seafood, a small-town feel and a park with dramatic sea views and massive penis statues. Winter sees the area covered in a carpet of snow and temperatures plunge, but the ski resorts are buzzing, especially Pyeongchang, which will host the Winter Olympics in 2018.
There’s so much more to South Korea than just Seoul – Gangwon-do is a completely different side that not many visitors to the Asian nation even consider seeing. Off the beaten path in Korea, the province is like a whole different country.
6. Mauritius – Kirsten Alana, Aviators and a Camera
My top travel pick for 2013 is Mauritius. It’s a small enough island that picking a specific city isn’t necessary. I was there for just over a week and saw almost all of the most important places. Culturally, it’s a fascinating country that mixes both Dutch and French colonial history with Indian, African and Asian immigrants to form a true melting pot atmosphere. Pair the stunning beaches and lush mountains with the religious and cultural differences and it becomes a place that is hard to beat for unusual moments.
7. Hopkins, Belize – Erin De Santiago-Domue, Our Tasty Travels
While I am very partial to my home on Ambergris Caye, I recommend travelers planning a trip to Belize include the tiny fishing village of Hopkins. It’s the perfect spot to learn about Garifuna culture and get an authentic taste of Belize, without mass tourism. There is a drumming school in town and properties like Hopkins Bay Resort offer a number of cultural activities, including an interactive Garifuna cooking class. Hopkins’ mainland coastal location also provides travelers with the opportunity to enjoy all the activities that attract visitors to Belize in the first place – scuba diving, snorkeling, Maya templates, rainforests, and more.
8. Colombia – Stephanie Yoder, Twenty-Something Travel
I’ve been talking up Colombia to anybody who will listen. Seriously: this country gets a bad rap but most of their serious troubles are far in the past and what’s left is a really interesting and vivacious country. You’ve got tropical beaches in the north, rolling coffee country, the amazon and some really dynamic cities like Bogota and Medellin. Best of all- it’s shocking cheap to fly to out of NYC. Actually no, best of all are the incredibly friendly people who are so eager for Colombia to be known for it’s charms instead of it’s past.
9. Morocco – The Windwalker Duo, 1Dad 1 Kid, 1 Crazy Adventure
Morocco sounds like such an exotic place. It’s on many people’s bucket list, and rightly so. Places like Marrakech and Essaouira really shouldn’t be missed, but there’s something to be said for seeing the untouristed parts of this amazing north African country. That’s one reason why going to Guelmim, and the neighboring oasis of Tighmert, should be on your 2013 must-see list. Guelmim is a smaller city, but it is 100% authentic Moroccan. Here you get a taste of the true culture and daily life of most Moroccans. Nothing is designed for tourism, even the camel souk. It’s all normal, day-to-day life. The oasis is home to a few ecolodges if you really want to escape and surround yourself with a taste of the “forgotten life.” While exploring this beautiful country, make sure to add a stop in Guelmim for at least a couple of days and get a feel for the real Morocco.
10. South Africa – Rachelle Lucas, The Travel Bite
Picking just one destination is an impossible feat, as I’m in love with them all for different reasons. But if I had to choose just one place for 2013 it would be South Africa. It’s been a year since I’ve traveled there, and yet I still catch myself vividly daydreaming of the memories made while spending two weeks in that beautiful country. There is just such a diversity of experiences unlike anywhere else I’ve been in the world. You can go from dense cityscapes to complete wilderness, from sipping fine wines in the valley to gnawing at biltong and chugging beers from the back of a jeep. And then there’s going out on safari. The first time you spot a zebra, or a lion, or a giraffe, or a herd of elephants (and you will find them all); that moment will absolutely take your breath away.
For the budget-minded, it’s not an impossible dream. Flights will be your biggest expense, but the experience is worth the little extra you spend to get there and going during the off season will save you a couple hundred bucks. I’d encourage you to visit the small town of St. Lucia just outside of iSimangaliso Wetlands Park where you get to see a bit of everything, from hippos grazing in the estuaries, to zebras galloping over wide open plains, and miles and miles of untouched coastline. St. Lucia is also pretty easy to get too. Just a two hour drive outside of Johannesburg and you’ll be moments away from your first safari.
For the more luxury-minded, I’d spend some time in their wine region. Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are the most popular wine destinations, but for a more off-the-beaten path experience I’d head to a Hermanus, a small community along the coast known for whale watching. Tucked away behind Hermanus is a valley called Hemel-en-aarde which translates to “Heaven and Earth.” It truly lives up it’s name. There you’ll find Hamilton Russell Vineyards … best pinot noir in the world!
11. Hong Kong – Dylan Lowe, The Travelling Editor
Hong Kong: the concoction of ethnic South Chinese traditions and western refinement – which spells contrast in the sorts of cultural experiences visitors can absorb. Beyond its function as one of Asian’s main transit hubs, the city is becoming a multidimensional destination of its own right; housing weathered walled villages with incense-pungent temples and ascending skyscrapers alike, with influences from all over Asia and afar, there’s no greater brew of internationalism than Hong Kong’s versatility in cuisines, fashion, activities and sights. And with better potential in tourism, comes expansions of guides and facilities to bring you a better understanding of one of the most magnificent cities in Southeastern Asia.