São Tomé and Príncipe This small island nation, 250km off the west coast of central Africa, is “the Galápagos of Africa”, according to Tom Barber of Original Travel. As in the Galápagos, isolation means there are numerous species of plants and birds that occur nowhere else and, depending on the season, visitors can also see migrating giant leatherback turtles and humpback whales. Unlike the Galápagos, visitors can stay on the islands (rather than on cruise ships), making it easy to explore the forests, extinct volcanoes and colonial towns.
The hotel of choice is Bom Bom Island Resort; doubles from €325), an islet off the north coast of Príncipe, with 21 luxurious bungalows. Activities include fishing, diving, snorkelling and whale-watching, and a portion of profits are invested in local conservation efforts – according to Barber the resort inspires “optimism that the islands could become a model for responsible tourism in the west African region”.
Kashmir and Ladakh “Indians refer to Ladakh as their best-kept secret,” says Tom Marchant of Black Tomato. The mountainous region, part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, is also often called “Little Tibet” – it shares Tibet’s high-altitude desert landscape, architecture and religion. Both Marchant and Barber recommend Shakti Himalaya; $4,290 for a seven-night tour), whose trips allow guests to stay in villagers’ houses (which have been brought up to tourist standards) far off the beaten track. It makes sense to combine a trip to Ladakh with neighbouring Kashmir, where tourism has been expanding thanks to a calming of the political unrest. In 2011 tourists to the region topped 1m for the first time, and last November the UK Foreign Office withdrew its warning against travelling to Srinagar, Kashmir’s main city. Unlike the dry landscapes of Ladakh, Kashmir’s lakes and mountains look almost Alpine. It’s “unbelievably beautiful”, says Jonny Bealby of Wild Frontiers, who recommends staying on one of the traditional houseboats on Dal Lake (see for example www.buttsclermonthouseboat.com or www.royalhouseboats.com).
Uganda Fifty years ago, Uganda was the leading safari destination in east Africa but decades of political and economic volatility effectively took the country off the tourist map. Now, though, those looking for an alternative to Kenya and Tanzania are returning to find what is, according to Rory Pilkington of Bailey Robinson, an “unspoilt wilderness that has not suffered the pressure of excessive tourism like elsewhere”.
A new service allows visitors to fly between the different national parks without chartering a private plane, making it easier to explore the country. Pilkington recommends Semliki Wildlife Reserve, deep in the Western Rift Valley, “where tropical rainforest meets grassy savannah”. Stay at the award-winning Semliki Safari Lodge; doubles from $405), where guests can accompany researchers as they study chimpanzees. Next, stay in one of eight luxury tents at Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp (from $418), which is high in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and is often visited by some of the forest’s 400 wild gorillas. Finish with some swimming, fishing and sailing at Pineapple Bay Resort (doubles from $400), on Bulago Island in Lake Victoria.
Istria, Croatia The Croatian peninsula of Istria “is almost like a highlights package of Europe, all neatly presented in one bite-size area”, says Barber. “The bucolic interior is dotted with hilltop villages that look distinctly Tuscan, and the coastline is every bit as beautiful as that of the French Riviera.”
While Croatia overall isn’t known for its cuisine, it’s a different story on the peninsula, which belonged to Italy until 1947. Winemaking and truffle-hunting are taken very seriously. Accommodation options have been limited, but there are some hidden gems, including the recently refurbished Hotel Kastel doubles from €83), housed in a 700-year-old building in the hillside town of Motovun. Seafood lovers should go to Rovinj, one of the Mediterranean’s major fishing ports and Istria’s answer to Saint-Tropez. Stay at the Monte Mulini, Rovinj’s first five star (doubles from €177).
Chile’s islands “Many visitors feel that they have ‘done’ Chile if they visit Atacama, Patagonia and Santiago,” says Geoffrey Kent of Abercrombie & Kent. “But for the more inquisitive traveller, there is a collection of truly remote and mystical islands that are full of adventure and mysterious wildlife.” He recommends Chiloé, where visitors can walk in the temperate rainforest and take boat trips to spot whales and other marine wildlife, and the Juan Fernández Islands, where the castaway who inspired Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe eked out an existence for four years. A trip to the latter is “an incredible experience”, says Kent. “It has spectacular landscapes, unspoilt dive sites and some very eerie shipwrecks.”
Nicaragua “Nicaragua is a forgotten corner of the world,” says Gabriel Donida of Atelier Voyage, who predicts that the central American republic “will be the next sought-out destination for European travellers”. He suggests staying at Mukul Resort; doubles from $550), a new $250m, 1,670-acre private beach community on the Emerald Coast, offering “stunning views, luxurious pampering and an authentic atmosphere”. Guests can take short helicopter rides to surrounding islands and volcanoes or ride bikes through nature trails that are home to iguanas, tropical birds, sloths and monkeys.
Tom Barber is co-founder of Original Travel;
Jonny Bealby is a travel writer and founder of Wild Frontiers;
Gabriel Donida is executive director of Munich-based Atelier Voyage;
Geoffrey Kent is founder and chairman of Abercrombie & Kent;
Tom Marchant is co-founder and director of Black Tomato;
Rory Pilkington is managing director of Bailey Robinson