Don’t mind if I go! Thanks Fodor’s!
1. Colombia – A notion of apprehension has been replaced with straight-up excitement when it comes to Colombia travel. For many, this change in perception is not only due to the country’s drastic decrease in crime (particularly in the cities), but to the wave of sexy new boutique hotels and big-name resort brands in Cartagena and Bogotá, fusion restaurants (Andres Carne de Res, Bogotá); and salsa clubs (Quiebra Canto, Cartagena); designer spas (Cartagena’s Tcherassi Hotel & Spa opened in 2009); and crumbling Colonial splendor rebooted. The cut-rate pricing is also pretty convincing all on its own.
2. Cuba – Because Americans can again! Guided travel to Cuba was reintroduced in August 2011, giving trailblazing visitors access to organized itineraries packed with educational and cultural activities. Tour the cobblestoned streets of Old Havana, undoubtedly the most historically interesting UNESCO-protected district in the Caribbean; listen to jazz at legendary La Zorra y el Cuervo; view artwork from Caribbean and Latin artists at the Havana Biennial Art Exhibition (May 11-June 11); drop by Ernest Hemingway’s countryside estate; and puff on a few Cohibas (though smoke them there because bringing them into the U.S. remains strictly prohibited).
3. Istria – Istria is like a less-touristed, more affordable version of Tuscany. Think medieval hilltop villages (most notably Rovinj and Motovun), miles of vineyards, and restaurants serving incredible seafood and pizza and pasta dishes topped with shavings of locally foraged truffles (indeed, the world’s best come from Istria, not Italy). Hugging the Adriatic coast of Croatia on a peninsula opposite Venice, coastal Istria is just as appealing as its southern Dalmatian Coast neighbors (minus the crowds) and its Italian counterparts (without the high price tags—so long as Croatia remains off the euro).
4. Panama – Panama’s ongoing building boom is one for the ages. Panama City’s transformed skyline features dozens of new skyscrapers, including the Trump Ocean Club and Waldorf Astoria’s Panamera (slated to open in June), while once gritty neighborhoods like UNESCO site Casco Viejo, a cobblestoned town of aging colonial and neoclassical buildings, now charms with atmospheric boutique hotels and buzzing restaurants.
5. Rwanda – In sum: Gorilla trekking. A third of the planet’s remaining mountain gorillas reside in the tiny country’s northwest corner, much of which is protected by Volcanoes National Park. Here, guided hikes through thick bamboo forests afford intrepid travelers a very up-close and intimate look at the endangered primates. This safari-focused tourism, which is particularly affordable and eco-friendly, is leading Rwanda’s spirited comeback from the genocide that scarred the country nearly two decades ago.
6. South Korea – The once war-torn capital region has emerged from North Korea’s shadow to become a global business frontrunner, revealing its zest for change and remarkable grip on techie innovation. Progressive Seoul is loaded with modern yet unexpected frills, from buzzing nightclubs and wine bars to jjimjilbangs (inexpensive thermal baths and spas) and delicious street-side barbecue spots. To get at the heart of Seoul’s burgeoning arts scene, be sure to visit the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA), Seoul Arts Center, and 313 Art Project.
7. Wales – Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding in 2011 cast a spotlight beyond London to their home in Wales, a quieter part of Britain that’s ready for its star turn. In summer 2012, the completion of the 870-mile-long Wales Coast Path, showcasing rugged cliffs and sandy beaches, will make Wales the first country to have a trail along its entire coast. Add 600 castles, a foodie revolution, and good-value inns, and it’s the perfect place to lace up your walking shoes.
My pick? I choose Colombia! My aunt is from Bogota and I would love to meet the rest of her family and have a personalized tour of this beautiful country. It’s always more authentic when you have local friends to help show you around.
On the other hand, having been to Cuba, I would love to go again as well. I have not made it to Havana yet and I just know I would break out in a big salsa dancing fit in the middle of the street.