Top destinations 2012

From Argentina’s tango bars to Zambia’s safari parks, travel industry insiders pick their hot destinations for 2012

Argentina

“People are really waking up to what Buenos Aires is all about,” says Gordon Campbell Gray, the celebrated hotelier who created One Aldwych in London, Carlisle Bay in Antigua and Le Gray in Beirut. “It’s a party city – it’s very beautiful architecturally but it’s really about great food and great nightlife in a glamorous setting.” By day, tourists can visit beaches, the pampas or the Iguazu Falls, then return to spend nights in the city’s famous tango bars or at the Teatro Colón opera house. The impressive choice of hotels includes the new wine-themed Hotel Mio (www.miobuenosaires.com; doubles from $346), with rooms featuring carved wooden bathtubs and free wine on tap. Geoffrey Kent of Abercrombie & Kent recommends staying on an Argentine ranch where guests can fish and ride, a perfect antidote to nights of hedonism in the capital. Bahia Bustamante (www.bahiabustamante.com; from $215 per person per night), for example, offers more than 200,000 acres of Patagonian wilderness, to be shared by a maximum of 30 guests at any one time. They can spend their time hiking, riding, kayaking, exploring the 60m-year-old petrified forest, or simply watching wildlife, from whales, dolphins and sea-lions to ostriches and armadillos.

Mozambique

Benguerra island, Mozambique

“With 2,500km of beautiful, undeveloped coastline, Mozambique is the new kid on the block as far as coastal destinations are concerned,” says Will Jones of Journeys by Design. Joel Zack of Heritage Tours says: “Mozambique offers luxury but still very much feels like you’re in Africa. The beaches are beautiful and the people friendly.” Attracting most attention is Azura at Quilalea (www.azura-retreats.com; from $595 per person per night), part of the Quirimbas archipelago in the far north. It opened last month and offers nine villas, set on an otherwise uninhabited 86-acre island, surrounded by a marine sanctuary. Nearby are more stunning island resorts including Vamizi (www.vamizi.com; from $590 pppn) and Ibo Island Lodge (www.iboisland.com; from $335 pppn). Some 800 miles further south, the Bazaruto archipelago is the other big draw for those seeking paradise beach resorts, including the second Azura, on Benguerra island. But travellers are also turning their attentions to Mozambique’s mainland and, in particular, Gorongosa National Park (www.gorongosa.net). Game viewing is less guaranteed here than in more developed parks of South Africa but it is much less-visited. Explore Gorongosa (www.exploregorongosa.com; from $440 pppn) runs a tented camp, as well as setting up temporary “fly camps” for visitors to explore the bush.

Burma

Two years ago Burma was almost completely ignored by tourists. But in late 2010 Aung San Suu Kyi was released, then opposition groups dropped their calls for a tourism boycott. A month ago Hillary Clinton made a high profile visit in recognition of the government’s steps towards democracy and this week brings the release of a new biopic about Suu Kyi.

The result has been a tourism boom – so much so that tour operators report some hotels are fully booked for the first few months of 2012.

The key attraction is the lack of tourist development, a by-product of years of isolation. “It’s like Thailand 50 years ago,” says Tom Barber, of Original Travel. Jonny Bealby of Wild Frontiers says: “Mandalay and Bagan are unbelievable destinations. Burma has a huge amount to offer.” Tom Marchant of Black Tomato recommends visiting the Mahamuni Pagoda Festival in early February: “It’s a great chance to get out there and see what I think is truly authentic Asia.”

All visitors should see the well-preserved colonial buildings of Yangon, the former royal capital Mandalay and Bagan, the site of more than 2,000 pagodas and temples. Adventurous travellers are pushing north, some making it as far as remote Putao, where they go rafting, elephant trekking or to visit traditional villages in the jungle. Malikha Lodge (www.malikhalodge.net; from $1,900 per person for three nights) is a luxurious wilderness lodge hidden among bamboo trees above the Nam Lang river, about 10 miles from Putao airport.

Papua New Guinea

“It is an intrepid and immersive experience; it feels like a last frontier,” says Marchant. And yet Papua New Guinea’s beaches, fascinating culture and unrivalled scuba diving are starting to attract adventurous tourists as well as hardcore explorers. Visitors can take part in supported expeditions that visit volcanoes and some of the island’s 1,000 isolated tribes. Barber also recommends diving and fishing in Papua New Guinea, which sits in the Coral Triangle, an area known as the Amazon of the Seas for its marine biodiversity. For diving, consider Lissenung Island Resort (www.lissenung.com; from $141pppn), Walindi Plantation (www.walindi.com; from $115 pppn) or Tufi Dive Resort (www.tufidive.com; from $162 pppn). Inland, Karawari Lodge (www.pngtours.com; from $603 pppn) sits amid tropical rainforest, overlooking the Karawari river in East Sepik province. There is no road access, so guests arrive by air, landing at a jungle airstrip, and take boat trips to nearby villages built on stilts by the river’s edge. Wildlife is abundant and at least 229 different species of bird have been recorded in the area.

Sweden

Perhaps helped by the popularity of Nordic food and design, not to mention Stieg Larsson’s Millennium books, tour operators are getting excited about Sweden. Stockholm makes a perfect weekend-break destination, with boutique hotels and world-class restaurants. Stay at the fashionable Lydmar (www.lydmar.com; doubles from £299) and check out the bohemian area of west Stockholm, Rörstrandsgatan, packed with interesting cafés and antique shops. But Stockholm is also a good jumping-off point for longer trips. Barber recommends moving on to northern Sweden, where tourists can ski, go dog sledding and see the northern lights. Marchant recommends visiting the northern city of Lulea and the Unesco-recognised Gammelstad while staying in the Tree Hotel (www.treehotel.se; doubles from £364), where guests sleep in a variety of architect-designed treehouses.

Ethiopia

Though the rock churches of Lalibela have long drawn intrepid travellers, 2012 could see tourists discover far more of the country, from the Simien mountains of the north to the lower Omo valley in the south.

“Ethiopia has always struggled because of a lack of infrastructure and a lack of decent accommodation options but that is changing,” says Jones.

While not luxurious, Gheralta Lodge (www.gheraltalodgetigrai.com; doubles from £37) is a stylish base for trips into the Danakil desert, somewhere Bealby describes as “the most surreal landscape you’re ever likely to see”. If short on time (and energy), Tropic Air (www.tropicairkenya.com) offers helicopter tours to whisk visitors into the most remote parts of the country.

Panama

“Panama lets you get a taste of the whole of Central America in one trip,” says Marchant – its small size means you can easily swap between Caribbean and Pacific coasts, as well as getting inland for jungle and wildlife experiences.

On the northern, Caribbean coast, visitors should head to the San Blas Islands for white sand beaches, diving and to meet indigenous tribes such as the Kuna, advises Barber. “They are autonomous from the rest of Panama and have their own customs that are still flourishing,” he says. Visitors stay in thatched eco-lodges on the beach, such as the Coral Lodge (www.corallodge.com; from $105 pppn).

Further west, closer to the Costa Rican border, is the Bocas del Toro archipelago, which is more developed and has a greater choice of accommodation, including Punta Caracol (www.puntacaracol.com; doubles from $344). On the Pacific side, the hot destination is Isla Coiba, an isolated marine reserve that was a notorious prison colony until the last inmate was released in 2005. This past means there has been little development – a maximum of 60 guests are allowed at any time, while there are more than 700 species of fish, 30 kinds of sharks and 20 species of whales and dolphins.

Panama City itself has much to offer, including colonial buildings, lively nightlife and good restaurants, as well as the spectacle of vast ships navigating the canal. The Museum of Biodiversity (www.biomuseopanama.org), designed by Frank Gehry, is currently under construction, and is due for a soft opening in late 2012. Stay at the Casa del Horno (www.casadelhorno.net; doubles from $275), an eight-suite boutique hotel that opened in 2011 in the old quarter. From the city it’s possible to make day trips into the jungle, along the coast and to El Valle, a pretty town in the crater of an extinct volcano.

Zambia

Visiting Zambia is a chance to experience “sheer wilderness”, says Kent. The Luangwa valley is known as the home of the walking safari and offers the chance to see wildlife without the clusters of tourist minibuses found in some of the more popular African safari parks. “With a great guide, you get a lesson in the African bush going from major game down to the dung beetle,” says Kent.

Watching elephants in the Luangwa valley, Zambia

After a day on safari, guests can relax in one of the elegant lodges, including Sanctuary Chichele Presidential Lodge (www.sanctuaryretreats.com; from $320 pppn) once home to Kenneth Kaunda, the former Zambian president.

At Victoria Falls adrenaline junkies can bungee jump from the bridge dividing Zambia from Zimbabwe and go whitewater rafting, then retreat to the Royal Livingstone hotel (www.suninternational.com; doubles from $440), part of the Falls Resort which had a $7m refurbishment in 2011. Those looking for a calmer activity can cruise along the Zambezi river and spot wildlife on the way or rent a houseboat on nearby Lake Kariba.

Kent recommends following up a Zambian safari with a beach holiday in neighbouring Mozambique. He says: “A week in Zambia, with family or on honeymoon, and a week in Mozambique, what could be better?”

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NEW DIRECTIONS: Trends to watch for

Twin-centres Splitting your holiday between coast and mountains or city and country is nothing new, but today’s travellers are taking the idea to extremes. Tour operator Black Tomato reports strong demand for itineraries offering striking contrasts: two-week trips split between skiing in Colorado and beaches in Mexico, for example, or a combination of Tokyo and New Zealand, Rome and Beirut and Iceland and New York.

Who you know, not where you go Luxury travel company Nota Bene says clients are increasingly asking for holidays that include introductions to key people in the region they are visiting. Past trips have included a meeting with Asma al-Assad, the British-born first lady of Syria and lunch with Andrea Bocelli on the private island of Li Galli off the Amalfi coast. www.notabenetravel.com

The new travel clubs Once travel clubs and concierge services were all about paying a premium to jump the queue at the most exclusive restaurants, nightclubs and so on.

Today, they are increasingly offering good deals too. Jetsetter, for example, works on a “flash sale” principle – members receive emails offering trips at discounts of up to 50 per cent but that typically must be bought within 10 days. For around $200, members can also have trips personally arranged by the club’s roster of travel writers. Global Artichoke, meanwhile, is aimed at wealthy globetrotters: they pay an annual fee of £9,000, but then pay cost price for all their travel. Even private jets are being discounted: members of online club Victor can share the cost of jets, leading to significant savings.

www.jetsetter.co.uk

www.globalartichoke.com

www.flyvictor.com

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The panel

Tom Barber is co-founder of Original Travel (www.originaltravel.co.uk); Jonny Bealby is a travel writer and founder of Wild Frontiers (www.wildfrontiers.co.uk); Gordon Campbell Gray is founder of Campbell Gray Hotels (www.campbellgrayhotels.com); Will Jones is managing director of African specialist Journeys By Design (www.journeysbydesign.com); Geoffrey Kent is founder and chairman of Abercrombie & Kent (www.abercrombiekent.co.uk); Tom Marchant is co-founder and director of Black Tomato (www.blacktomato.co.uk); Joel Zack is the founder of Heritage Tours (www.htprivatetravel.com)

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