As 2012 wraps up, my thoughts are quickly turning towards a new year and new travels. Below are my top ten destinations for 2013 (in no particular order). Hopefully I’ll make it to a few if not all of these remarkable locales. With so much out there to see, I better get a move on it.
1. Baku, Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is quickly becoming the go to destination for the world’s jetset. For years Azerbaijan has been hidden in the little visited Caucasus, but now the dust has settled and this energy rich nation is taking center stage. Baku is the nations capital and the crown jewel of Azerbaijan. Here five star hotels and chic boutiques mingle with an enchanting landscape and an ancient cultural heritage. Nestled between the Great Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian Sea, Baku and Azerbaijan offers something for everyone. Though the masses have not reached here yet with the abundant opportunities available they are bound to any moment. I want to get here and experience Baku and Azerbaijan now before they do.
clockwise from top left: countryside church in the rolling Azerbaijani landscape, photo by Amoo Afshin; popular Bilgəh beach on the North Coast of the Absheron Peninsula, photo by @kemalbayik; Baku at night, photo from http://www.azeri.net
We all know I love a good beach and a Mediterranean one at that. Lying south of Sicily, Malta is a tiny archipelago nation with a longstanding heritage and a vibrant coastal landscape. North African and Arabic influences give Malta it’s unique flair as the quintessential Mediterranean beach destination with so much more to offer. While Santorini, Mykonos and Ibiza may be more well known, Malta is the perfect escape for those seeking something a little off the Mediterranean path.
Blue Lagoon in Malta, photo by John Elk III for Lonely Planet
3. Bodrum, Turkey
In keeping with my coastal affinity Bodrum, Turkey is high on my list. My last visit to the country kept me mainly inland visiting cultural capital Istanbul and uniquely lunar Cappadocia. Bodrum offers a dichotomy of Turkish experiences I can not wait to realize. From ancient architecture and heritage to a bohemian beach paradise, Bodrum is a fascinating place to take in the country’s East meets West vibe.
4. Beaver Creek, Colorado
Because it’s not exactly roughing it and that’s exactly how I like to ski. I look forward to my annual weekend at this Colorado ski town which gets better with every trip. From the warm cookies to impecable service and friendly faces, Beaver Creek takes the chill out of the season.
“not exactly roughing it“
5. The Gambia
The smallest country on the continent of Africa, The Gambia is big on both culture and nature. Only 500 km long and 50 km wide, The Gambia is engulfed entirely by Senegal except for an 80 km shoreline that boasts pristine beaches that rival the best in the world. Nature reserves give visitors a feel for African wildlife, and consuming markets inundate the senses with The Gambia’s colorful local heritage. The village of Juffere on the banks of the River Gambia pays homage to the slave trade that forever left its mark on the country.
6. Portland, Maine
Friendly locals, cherished traditions, old-style Americana and good food describe the seaside city on Maine’s Southern coast. The largest city in the state, Portland has plenty to offer including a high density of boutique shops, quirky galleries, local museums and quality eateries. I’ve been meaning to make it here for the past few years and I think that in 2013 I finally will.
clockwise from top left: quintessential Maine- Cape Elizabeth, photo by Jon Davison for Lonely Planet; the Exchange Area of the city, photo by John Elk III for Lonely Planet; fresh lobster and all the fixins, the original Maine delicacy, photo by the Portland Lobster Co.
7. Portland, Oregon
The Pacific Northwest is known for its scenic beauty, old town feel, propensity for the outdoors and fresh ingredients used to create a uniquely local cuisine. While Seattle has long stolen the regions’ spotlight, Portland, Oregon is quickly rising up the ranks. “The City of Roses” is as laid back as they get, and has an impressive array of amenities for locals and tourists alike to enjoy. Sweeping vistas provide the backdrop for this hip city that is at the forefront of environmental sustainability. The one region of the U.S. I haven’t been to, I think Portland and Oregon would be a great first stop.
from left to right: “Welcome to Portland”, photo by Andrew Hall for Portland Bridges; downtown Portland with Mt. Hood in the background, photo by Jennifer Lee Brown
8. Quito, Ecuador
This ancient Incan city is now Ecuador’s capital and the first city along with Krakow, Poland to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nestled between two volcano peaks, the natural setting of this alpine city is sure to take one’s breath away. The original indigenous character of Quito remains today, with bustling markets and religious traditions spilling out onto the city streets. Not usually the first stop on a South American itinerary, Quito is the city for those wanting to experience authentic Andean flavor.
the Basílica del Voto Nacional impressive architecture shows off Ecuador’s (more recent) Catholic history, photo by TravelMarx
9. Penang, Malaysia
Penang is Malaysia’s culture capital full of ull of Malay, Chinese, Indian and European influences. With attractive beaches and world renowned street food, Penang is my ideal destination. Maintaining a greater colonial heritage than elsewhere in the country, Penang is Malaysia’s premier cultural destination and one not to miss in the upcoming year.
from left to right: boats docked on a secluded Penang beach, photo by Ibrahim Alwabil; small dock out on the water, photo by http://www.penangpage.com; fishing village, photo by fiftymm99; infamous Penang hawker food, photo by @backpackies
Hidden from the Southeast Asian tourist path, Myanmar is the region’s hidden gem. Under repressive military rule for years, Myanmar, formally known as Burma, is beginning to come out from the shadows. The year 2011 saw the freeing Noble Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Ky and political prospects from the country are starting to look good. While the State Law and Order Restoration Council kept out the majority of tourists to Myanmar, it also inadvertently protected the country’s trove of heritage resources. Perfectly preserved temples and stupas dot the landscape which is home to a friendly and polite population with ethnic Chinese and Indian roots. As the political climate continues to better, Myanmar is sure to become increasingly popular with the backpacking set.
the temple dotted landscaped of Bagan, photo by audiegrl