Where is the best place to visit right now? Every year, Lonely Planet’s panel of travel experts tackles this most hotly-contested topic. From a list of hundreds of places – the new and buzzing, the strangely-overlooked – we whittle the selection down to just 10 countries, 10 regions and 10 cities, and a few bonus lists, too. It’s all in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2016 book – read on for the highlights
TOP 10 COUNTRIES
Pacific island escapes, Eastern European star performers and other stand-out states
In 2016, Botswana will celebrate its 50th year of independence. Its journey from abject poverty to being one of Africa’s most stable and thriving societies is hugely inspiring – and Botswana is also a unique destination. Wild, pristine and expansive, its unusual combination of desert and delta draws an immense concentration of wildlife. Some 17 per cent of the country is given over to national parks, many of them spreading into the vast trans-frontier parks of Kavango-Zambezi and Kgalagadi. This dedication to conserving some of the world’s last remaining wildernesses was finally recognised in 2014, when the jewel in Botswana’s conservation crown, the Okavango Delta, became UNESCO’s 1,000th World Heritage site. Despite these accolades, Botswana remains off the radar for most people, whose impression is that it’s too expensive, too difficult to get to, or doesn’t cater for families – none of which are true. Here is a real wilderness that puts you in touch with primitive thrills, whether it’s being poled along in a mokoro canoe (pictured) past pods of sunbathing hippos in the Okavango Delta; tracking elephants in the Serengeti-in-miniature of Savuti; feeling the spirit of the first men in the rock art of the Tsodilo Hills; or finding the eerie beauty of Kubu Island’s ancient baobabs, backlit by constellations in a vast night sky.
Japan was resoundingly successful with its application for Tokyo to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. Games fever is already apparent in the capital, as it executes an elaborate feat of urban planning that will create a brand-new shopping district and Olympic Village, and move the venerated Tsukiji Fish Market (where over Rs 130 crore of seafood is sold each day) to a sparkling new facility set to open its doors at the end of 2016. With the Japanese yen lower against many currencies than it’s been for years, there’s no better time to experience the country that pays such vivid tribute to manic modernity and hallowed history. Making for a ‘not-in-Kansas-anymore’ travel experience, Japan’s cities are expertly- crafted odes to futurism, where trains whirr by in the blink of an eye and towers of metal and glass are bathed in neon light. The countryside feels otherworldly, too, its landscapes blending snowy peaks (as on the northern island of Hokkaido, above) with shimmering Pacific shores. And everywhere in between are prim wooden temples: a reminder that a well of deep-seated traditions hides just beneath the country’s veneer of modern-day perfection.
In 2016, the National Park Service (NPS), the government body which protects and maintains America’s 59 national parks and hundreds of other landmarks, is turning 100. Like any great host, this old-timer has been busting a gut to ensure the parks are at their best for the centenary: from clearing trails and improving accessibility to hosting ‘discovery’ events, it’s serious work with a wondrous end. These are some of the most spectacular and surreal landscapes on the planet, and the fact that they are looking much the same as they did at the birth of this highway-loving nation, is frankly a miracle. Yosemite’s mighty granite cliffs, Monument Valley’s weird rocks, the Everglades’ steamy swamps, Yellowstone’s howling wolves, Alaska’s glittering glaciers… there are 84 million acres of parkland to choose from. As you lace up your hiking boots, just remember to give your thanks to those hardworking folk at the NPS.
Seven more must-visit-in-2016 countries, the top 10 regions, the top 10 cities, 2016 anniversaries, even the best places to elope to – all in the December 2015 issue of Lonely Planet Magazine India. Pick up a copy from your newsstand or click to subscribe via Zinio or Magzter.