Welcome back to my annual rundown of the best places in the world to travel to. Last year, well, was last year, with travelling limited to say the least, so I am very pleased to be putting together this year’s recommendations. Maintaining a theme of sustainable and responsible tourism throughout, I am going to start with two countries, one from South Asia and the second North-West Europe and finish off with two cities, one from the far east and the second from way down under.
Nepal is something of a favourite on this site, and now is a better time than ever to visit. It is a global trekking hub – so if you are looking for open space and to get away from the bustle, Nepal is a great choice. Mesmeric trekking routes are plentiful from the Himalayas to the Annapurnas; however to really get away from the beaten track try Kanchenjunga in the east and Dolpo and Humla in the west. The capital Kathmandu is also absolutely worth visiting – since the earthquake of 2015, Derbar Square is in the process of being rebuilt. Money from tourism has a major role to play in the restoration of the medieval temples that made it an essential stop off for travellers and backpackers. Pokara to the West is so relaxed as to be virtually horizontal and is perfect for a few days R&R but also serves as a trekking hub for the Annapurnas.
Safari tourism, at Royal Chitwan National Park (for example) has made Nepal something of a global leader in terms of growth of its tiger and rhino populations – swapping elephant rides for guided day safari (or longer walks) is one way travellers have positively contributed to Nepal’s ecosystem and economy. Arrange your trek or safari independently to ensure money goes to local porters, agencies, and guides. This is great for sustainable tourism and benefits local communities. Nepal in short: good people, great food, and nature at its best and purest.
Nepal unlike many of her neighbours embraces LGBTQ+ rights and was one of the first countries in the world to allow self-determination for trans people. Furthermore, in 2021, 6 Nepalese women reached the Annapurna summit – challenging perceptions of climbing as a male only undertaking.
Continuing the theme of getting away from it all, and taking this idea to the extreme, next up is Iceland. Head west from Reykjavik to the Westfjords. Start at Isfjordur – the region’s capital, albeit with a population of only 2600. It is a culinary hub and has several good museums. Local natural wonders include waterfalls, rolling green valleys, mountains. The Dynjandi is the most majestic multi tiered of the region’s waterfalls. Hornstrandir is more or less as far as you can get in terms north-west europe and is the ultimate in wilderness escapes, being home to some of the most beautifully unspoiled landscapes, seascapes and wildlife.
En route to the Westfjords or on the way back to Reykjavik, Stykkisholmur is well worth a stop off. The town boasts a hostel, and healthy smattering of good hotels, a couple of very good restaurants, and the excellent Volcano Museum. It is also a good base to explore the region, with tours to Armarstapi’s black cliffs and puffin colonies, the black sand beaches at Djupalanssandur and lava fields at Hellnar.
New Zealand’s world leading response to Covid has seen Auckland emerge as one of the most vibrant and liveable cities in the southern hemisphere, if not the world. That said, walking around the city’s streets may not immediately give you that impression. Auckland’s location renders it a great place to visit. Heading west will lead you to lush rainforests and surf beaches, north for geothermal springs and wine country. East will take you to Hauraki Gulf for whale and dolphin watching as well as penguins and sanctuaries for some of the world’s rarest birds.
That is not to say that Auckland does not boast sights of her own. Maori culture abounds and the Auckland Museum and Auckland Art Gallery house great collections of Maori and Pasifika art and artefacts. Mount Eden is worth a visit and a climb for panoramic city views; and Auckland also has a vibrant, bar, club and restaurant scene.
The Women’s Rugby World Cup comes to Auckland in 2022, postponed from 2021, the Black Ferns have won 5 of the last 6 tournaments and are expected to go close again. All this makes Auckland and perhaps New Zealand in general an attractive destination for 2022.
Tombs at Tumuli-gongwon
Last but no means least, a city that I visited in 2014, is the south-korean southern city of Gyeongju. Again, as with Nepal, Iceland and Auckland the emphasis here is on the outdoors. Gyeongju is something of a natural outdoor museum. Mount Namsan and her spectacular pine trees ( a hike up on a Sunday morning is suggested for a taste of local life), the Unesco listed grottos Seokguram and the superb terrace temple Bulguk-sa require a short bus ride from the city. The excellent Wolseong Palace and surrounding grounds and gardens and the spectacular tombs at Tumuli-gongwon can be walked around in an afternoon. Gyeongju does see few foreign tourists, however this may change soon as new for 2021 Singyeongju station, the main rail hub, has been connected to the subway networks of Busan and Pohang. Similarly, travellers can get here in just 2 hours from Seoul. Transport connections are good and prices more than reasonable in this enchantingly authentic Korean town (in contrast to busy Busan and parts of Seoul). Furthermore a government initiative in the city to support food stall owners has led to something of a revival for Korean dishes.