From Burma’s Buddhist temples to the blazing beaches of Brazil, here are my top picks for this year’s hottest holidays.
Mankind seems to possess an innate desire “to explore strange new worlds.” Just ask Captain Kirk–or Lewis and Clark, for that matter. While there aren’t many places left where you can “boldly go where no one has gone before” (without the aid of a warp drive, at least), 2014 promises plenty of novel experiences to satiate your inner-adventurer.
With more than one million visitors making the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu every year, the “Lost City of the Incas” isn’t lost anymore. Travelers who want to escape the crowds should consider its “sister city,” Choquequirao.
“Choque-WHO?” you might ask. That’s exactly the point. Although Choquequirao is of a similar scale and design as Machu Picchu, hardly anyone has heard of these 15th century ruins nestled in the Salkantay Mountain Range. But with the Peruvian government planning to build a tram to provide easy access to Choquequirao in 2015, this may be the last year to experience its 1800-hectares of undulating terraces and stone temples in relative isolation.
If you want to see Choquequirao before it hits the big time, be forewarned: the journey is not for the faint of heart. It’s a two-day hike each way involving steep ascents, and, oh yeah, you’ll have to hop in a tiny basket suspended from a cable to cross the Apurimac River. (The old footbridge spanning the gorge has been washed away, and a new one has not yet been completed).
If you’re up for the challenge, Adventure Life, named one of National Geographic’s “Best Adventure Travel Companies On Earth,” offers a 12-day trip that includes visits to both Choquequirao and Machu Picchu. From $3750 per person, including internal flights. http://www.adventure-life.com/tours/choquequirao-trek-and-machu-picchu-2356/.
Brazil is basking in the global spotlight as it prepares to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup (June 12-July 13), and, of course, the 2016 Summer Olympics. As if those weren’t reasons enough to pack your bags (not forgetting that big foam finger to cheer for your favorite team), this vast country also boasts more than 4,600 miles of coastline and serves as the gateway to the Amazon. Little wonder that the World Economic Forum recently declared Brazil’s natural resources the most competitive on the planet for travel and tourism.
Adventure Life offers more than a dozen excursions that let you experience Brazil your way, whether you want to play “The Girl from Ipanema” on Rio’s famous beaches, trek through the jungle, get up close and personal with crocodiles at the Caiman Ecological Refuge, gape at the gushing glory of Iguazu Falls, or cruise the heart of the Amazon.
www.adventure-life.com/brazil. From $650 per person for four days.
Myanmar, better known as Burma, has the dubious distinction of hosting one of the world’s longest running civil wars, making it a no-go for all but the most adventurous tourists…until recently. While the war is still being fought in some areas of the country, the military junta was dissolved in 2011, and the National League for Democracy, founded by Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has lifted its long ban on tourism.
In 2012, more than one million foreigners visited Myanmar, flocking to see the Shwedagon Pagoda of Yangon, the ancient temples of Bagan, the cultural crossroads of Mandalay, and the floating flower gardens of Inle Lake.
As Myanmar can be tricky to navigate on your own, it’s best to stick with a tour company. Fortunately, there are plenty to choose from.
In 2014, Abercrombie & Kent will expand its Connections program to include three 10-day journeys to Myanmar, including Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, and Inle Lake. From $4,945 per person. http://www.abercrombiekent.com/travel/?fuseaction=dsp_itinerary&tid=5914.
Asia Transpacific Journeys, twice named World’s Best Tour Operator by Travel + Leisure, offers a variety of 12-day “off the beaten path” adventures with visits to tribal markets, 15th and 16th century ruins, and barge cruises. From $6,995 per person. http://www.asiatranspacific.com/travel-destinations/myanmar.
The Orient-Express has also introduced deluxe river cruises (complete with swimming pool and massage facilities) aboard the 43-cabin Road to Mandalay and the more intimate 25-cabin Orcaella. Three nights from $2,520 per person. http://www.orient-express.com
Finally, in December 2014, Sanctuary Retreats is also planning to launch its first voyage on the Sanctuary Ananda, a 20-suite ship that will cruise along Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady and Chindwin rivers. Guests will see temples, palaces, monasteries, and villages and towns off the well-trodden path. From $2,244 per person. http://www.sanctuaryretreats.com/sanctuary-ananda-myanmar-cruise-ship-burma.
Having landed the title of World Design Capital 2014, Cape Town is ready for its close-up. Beyond its most obvious enticement–a spectacular location nestled between Table Mountain and the ocean—this year the city will showcase its fashion, art, culture, culinary offerings and innovative urban development with 450 events. These range from public art installations to artists’ studio tours, a photography exhibition, and festivals devoted to street food, world music and design.
But WDC isn’t just spiffing up Cape Town with a good spit-shine. It’s trying to build a better city to bridge the gap among South African society. So after you’ve taken in the views atop Table Mountain and hit the boutiques and restaurants at the lively Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, hop on a ferry to Robben Island, where the late Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in prison, to pay your respects to this leader of social change.
If you’re looking for a stylish hotel that embraces Cape Town’s evolving architecture, check into the intimate Ellerman House, which encompasses an Edwardian mansion, two strikingly contemporary villas and a 7,500 bottle-strong wine gallery and tasting room, with an emphasis on South African vintages. www.ellerman.co.za
Near the waterfront, the One & Only Cape Town celebrates its setting with views of the city’s iconic mountains from every room. http://capetown.oneandonlyresorts.com
The Galapagos Islands are renowned for their remarkable wildlife, both above and below the waves, and have long attracted nature lovers and adventurers. With the spring 2014 release of a new documentary, “The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden,” the isles are likely to reel in amateur sleuths, as well.
The documentary, touted as “Darwin meets Hitchcock,” features voice-overs by Cate Blanchett and Diane Kruger and interweaves vintage film footage, old letters and interviews to examine the still-unsolved disappearance of several European eccentrics who settled on Floreana—the smallest of the Galapagos’ inhabited islands—in the 1930s.
Tropic Journeys in Nature, an award-winning eco-tourism operator, offers Galapagos tours, including a two-night stay at the Floreana Lava Lodge. This 10-cabin property, built on an isolated black sand beach, is run by one of the island’s oldest families, whose ancestors have passed down tales of Floreana’s enduring murder mystery.
In addition to playing Poirot, you can hike, explore pirate caves, and marvel at the Galapagos’ giant tortoises, frigate birds and Darwin’s finches. You’ll also have an opportunity to visit a sea lion breeding ground, and kayak, paddle-board, swim and snorkel with sea turtles, sea lions, and rays.
www.destinationecuador.com/galapagos-hotel-lava-lodge-floreana.html, from $875 per person.
Tour de France? Meh. That’s for amateurs. If you’re looking for a real challenge, Tour d’Afrique is launching the first ever Trans-Oceania cycling expedition in 2014, covering a jaw-dropping, thigh-burning 6,700 miles over four months. Starting in Singapore in August, Spandex-clad speedsters will island-hop through the jungles and along the beaches of Indonesia’s archipelago before crossing to East Timor and flying to Darwin, Australia.
The journey continues Down Under through the Australian Outback, past Ayers Rock and Alice Springs, and up the Great Ocean Road from Adelaide through Melbourne. For the grand finale, cyclists will roll up to iconic Sydney Opera House, where they can spin their wheels for awhile—and catch their breath.
From $17,900 per person for the four-month tour (August 16-December 21, 2014); two-week sections from $2,000. Early payment discounts also apply. http://tourdafrique.com/tour-overview/?t=trans-oceania.
From November 15 through December 1, Nomadic Expeditions will welcome the most intrepid travelers to Mongolia for a special “Quest for the Snow Leopard.” Scientists estimate that only about 7,300 of these rare and beautiful animals still survive in the mountain ranges of Central Asia.
The two-week journey, coordinated in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and the Massachusetts Audubon Society, will take hearty adventurers from the Altai Mountains of Western Mongolia to the adjacent Gobi Desert. Visitors will camp with nomadic families and be accompanied by Mongolian field researchers, native herders and experienced Mongolian and American guides who know the country and the animals’ habitat well.
While a sighting isn’t guaranteed, it promises to be the trip of a lifetime, with an opportunity to interact with locals and explore some of the most striking and remote landscapes in the world. Plus, you can feel good knowing that income from the expedition will go towards conservation of the snow leopard.
www.nomadicexpeditions.com, from $15,900 per person, based on double occupancy, not including international airfare.
While there’s nothing new about the notion of exploring Europe by boat, StarVista Signature Cruises on Seabourn knows how to put a song in the heart of even the most jaded cruise ship aficionado. In September, the company will premiere an “ultra-sophisticated luxury travel experience,” focusing on first-rate musical entertainment, with a 10-day voyage aboard the Seabourn Sojourn.
Grammy award-winning jazz vocalist Diana Krall will perform four exclusive concerts for the 450 passengers aboard the ship, which departs Monte Carlo on September 30. While the Sojourn will drop anchor at some of the Mediterranean’s most fabled cities, including St. Tropez, Portovenere, and Barcelona, the musicians seem destined to take center stage. In addition to Krall, the line-up includes vocalist Karrin Allyson, pianist Shelly Berg, trumpeter Randy Brecker, bassist John Clayton, reed player Anat Cohen, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and drummer Jeff Hamilton.
Seabourn Sojourn, which debuted in 2010, includes 225 suites, 90% with private verandas. The ship also features two swimming pools, six whirlpools, a nine-hole putting green, the largest spa on any ultra-luxury ship…and all that jazz.
StarVista Signature Cruises on Seabourn, Sept. 30 – October 10, 2014. From $6,000 per person. http://www.starvistacruises.com.