We have compiled for you a list of fantastic destinations to discover in 2019, with our help. Finding any of them exciting enough to consider? Let us assist with the planning by clicking here
With its otherworldly landscapes (see: above) and elemental emptiness (this is one of the most sparsely populated countries on earth, ranking only marginally behind Mongolia), Namibia has always enthralled us. But there’s a fresh focus on the Southern African nation in 2019 as a pack of lodges have just opened across the country. Serious new safari outfit Natural Selection, whose founders previously set up the much-respected Wilderness Safaris, is behind two of them: tented Hoanib Valley Camp in Kaokoland in the remote north-west, and high-design Shipwreck Lodge on the Skeleton Coast.
A joint venture between local communities and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, Hoanib Valley Camp was designed by Cate Simpson of Reflecting Africa, riffing off the color and textures of the setting. The interiors also incorporate the geometric patterns of the Himba people, whose temporary settlements dot the landscape between roaming endangered rhino, desert-adapted elephant and giraffe, onyx, springbok and jackal. Farther west, on the windswept sands, Shipwreck Lodge’s striking architecture is inspired by the numerous washed-up boats that are scattered along these wild shores. Just a kilometre from the rolling Atlantic Ocean, it’s a base for dune-climbing, beach-combing for whale bones, and spotting seal colonies. And right up in the Skeleton Coast’s northernmost reaches, where Namibia meets Angola, Wilderness Safaris’ Serra Cafema camp has reopened in the oasis of the Kunene River after a top-to-toe overhaul, with new thatched lodges on stilts above the riverbank.
Back near the capital Windhoek, Omaanda has just opened with 10 traditional-style round thatched huts set within the Zannier Reserve by N/a’an ku sê, a new 9,000-hectare private animal conservancy. It’s the first of two Namibian camps from French hotelier Arnaud Zannier, who was introduced to the country by Angelina Jolie, a fan of his exquisite Phum Baitang hotel near Siem Reap in Cambodia. The second, a tented camp called Sonop, will land in the southern Namib Desert in early 2019. Meanwhile, globetrotting members’ club Habitas has set up a dramatic hillside camp of contemporary, open-to-the-elements lodges in the wilderness of a 35,000-hectare reserve, about an hour from Windhoek airport, cementing Namibia’s place as the most exciting African destination right now.
This past spring Armenians voted in a new, more liberal government. The resulting energy has made the country all the more inviting to travelers. The Alexander, part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection, recently opened in Yerevan, giving the capital its first world-class hotel. And a number of new restaurants in the city, including Sherep, are breathing new life into Armenia’s ancient cuisine. Armenia has a famously beautiful countryside landscape, and there’s no better way to see it than on foot. The Transcaucasian Trail passes the spa town of Dilijan, the bucolic Dilijan National Park, and a pair of 10th-century Christian monasteries.
Istanbul and Bodrum, Turkey
It’s time to go back to Turkey. Istanbul’s new airport—expected to be the world’s largest when it’s finished—has opened its first phase and can start receiving 90 million passengers annually. On top of that, major cruise lines have announced they’ll return to Turkey after hitting pause on visiting the country over the last three years; welcoming them back is a new cruise port planned on the city’s Galata waterfront, also expected to open next year. The Galata waterfront is part of a larger development that will house the new Istanbul Modern museum as well as a new luxury hotel, from what we hear.
Down on the coast, meanwhile, a smattering of recently opened hotels are injecting new life into Bodrum—the glitzy resort spot long popular with vacationing Europeans for its sweeping views of the Aegean, luxurious hammams, old stone buildings, and drooping bougainvillea. Following the arrival of Six Senses Kaplankaya and a full renovation of the Mandarin Oriental earlier in the year, Ian Schrager’s Bodrum EDITION arrived this past summer, complete with three buzzy restaurants, rotating pop-up shops, visiting DJs, and one of the most impressive infinity pools in town. Bonus: You can tack on a few days in Greece, too, as Kos is just a 45-minute ferry ride away.
Siargao, The Philippines
The desire to skip town for a white-sand tropical paradise is universal—and for a time, everyone’s paradise was Boracay. The semi-remote island in the Philippines had a small stretch of sand, low-strung hammocks, and pastel sunsets every day. It was picture perfect…until it became the poster child for overtourism, with overcrowding, pollution, and, eventually, a complete closure to tourists for six months. Now, Siargao is Boracay before everyone found out—and better managed. This teardrop-shaped island has long been a surf mecca, with more than 15 world-class breaks (including the legendary Cloud 9) and a handful of locally run surf schools to keep beginners busy. The see-your-toes water is heaven for snorkelers, with healthy coral reefs teeming with life.
A handful of smaller, equally idyllic islands off the coast of Siargao, like secluded Mamon Island and non-sting jellyfish sanctuary Bucas Grande, are perfect for island hopping. Siargao is slightly harder to get to than other destination islands in the Philippines—there are no international flights, and travelers must connect through Manila or Cebu—but that’s a good thing. There are luxe accommodations, like the chic villas of Nay Palad Hideaway (formerly Dedon Island Resort), but it hasn’t been overbuilt (yet).
Bhutan, for many (including some of our office’s most seasoned travelers), is still a Shangri-La of sorts: a mystical, possibly fictional place where the air is thick with incense and pristine hillside villages remain blissfully free of tourists. Thanks to the kingdom’s “High Value Low Impact” tourism policy, where visitors pay a daily fee, Bhutan has received—and educated—select guests each year, delivering guided, super-small group tours (5-10 people) around Bhutanese culture and values while remaining true to itself. Certified local guides double as the trip concierge. Itineraries and hotels are highly customized. Guests may choose to spend one night at a rustic local farmhouse, and the next at an exclusive resort (with upgrade costs) like one of Aman’s five lodges or the new Six Senses Bhutan, which has five individual resorts coming in 2019 that will start accepting reservations from February 1—one of the biggest and best reasons to visit next year. Activities range from visiting the massive dzong temple-fortresses that dot the country, to bird-watching in the many pine forests, to tackling the Snowman Trail, one of the Himalayas’ toughest treks. It’s all part of being in the Kingdom.
Wait, Japan in 2019? Isn’t Tokyo hosting the Summer Olympics in 2020? Yes, and some 60 million people may have the same idea as you to visit that year; but as the country preps for your arrival, 2019 also looks to be a very exciting time to get to the Land of the Rising Sun. Japan’s first Ace Hotel will open in Kyoto courtesy of architect Kengo Kuma, who designed The Opposite House in Beijing and is also the lead on Tokyo’s forthcoming Olympic Stadium; the Rugby World Cup arrives in September; and the Setouchi Triennale—or the Setouchi International Art Festival, a new-since-2010 contemporary art explosion—returns from April to November across a dozen islands in the Seto Inland Sea. The country also got a new World Heritage site in August—the hidden Christian sites of Nagasaki—and thanks to one writer’s experience, skiing in remote Honshu is now on the bucket list of more than one Traveler staffer. And Tokyo? Tokyo was named the world’s top city for the third year in a row in Conde Nast’s 2018 Readers’ Choice Awards, in large part due to its status as the most Michelin-starred city in the world, and its thrill of contradictions: ultramodern, neon-lit skyscrapers and tranquil temples, unmatchable street style and centuries-old etiquette (the Tsukiji Fish Market now has a shiny new location, too). If that’s not enough to convince you, perhaps royalty will: The country is even getting a new emperor on May 1.
If you’ve only ever used the Sicilian capital as the airport for the island’s coasts and vineyards, this is the year to stick around for a few days after landing. An ambitious mayor, Leoluca Orlando, is helping to breathe new life into the ancient city’s food and cultural scene (he’s largely to thank for Palermo’s run as host of European biennial Manifesta). This year, 17th-century Palazzo Butera will reopen as an art gallery after a mega renovation by Milanese art collector Massimo Valsecchi. And inspired by what they’ve seen in Rome and London, younger Palermitani have taken over their city’s hospitality scene, pushing it beyond poorly it taverns selling decent eggplant alla norma. Bocum does exceptional negronis in a split-level space near Cala while the top local wines are paired with small plates at central Vinoveritas (save room for the sausage ragu at Bisso Bistrot later). Even the hotels are getting a redo. Rocco Forte just announced that he will take over the Grand Villa Igea, already the hottest hotel around, in time for a 2020 debut.
Tahiti has long seemed a far-away tease, of exquisite pearls, vanilla- and tiare-scented breezes, and powdery white sand beaches. Except, well, it’s really not that far away: The islands of French Polynesia are an eight-hour nonstop from the U.S. west coast, making them more convenient than Europe, and a recent spate of new routes and airline updates have made Tahiti more accessible—and affordable—than ever. Both United and low-cost carrier French Bee recently launched new routes from San Francisco, while Air France and Air Tahiti Nui upgraded their planes flying between Los Angeles and Tahiti. And though Zika concerns persist in other tropical destinations around the world, Tahiti is home to The Brando, a private island eco-resort that managed to get rid of the problem, in addition to pioneering eco-conscious practices that’ve elevated it as a model for sustainable luxury tourism. Built in the Tetiaroa atoll—bought by Marlon Brando back in the 1960s—the resort is just a 20-minute flight north of Tahiti’s airport; Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen DeGeneres, Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, and this under-the-radar guy Barack Obama have all made the trip. Now it’s your chance
South Island, New Zealand
Though some might think of it as Australia’s little sister, New Zealand has always been a sensational destination in its own right — and 2019 is set to be a banner year. Air New Zealand recently launched a non-stop flight between Chicago O’Hare and Auckland, the first and only direct route to the wild islands from the midwest of North America. Take this as your excuse to head down under and visit the country’s lush South Island, which is less developed than its neighbor to the north. Dramatic topographical features dominate the landscape, from snow-capped mountain peaks to whimsical, Seussian flora. An adventure seeker’s nirvana, the South Island is known for its bungee jumping, skydiving, and six of the country’s ten Great Walks, a network of backcountry trekking tracks, with a new route in the Paparoa Range set to open in 2019. For a tranquil retreat from the action, consider the Lindis, a new luxury lodge built into a dramatic dip in the Ahuriri Valley, its low slung silhouette blending seamlessly into its surroundings. Or head up to wine country, where the year-old Marlborough Lodge just debuted its new spa — the perfect place to unwind after touring vineyards and exploring the property’s 16 acres of private parkland.
Cruise the Northeast Passage
The Northwest Passage, where vessels slice through previously impassable stretches of the Canadian Arctic (an unfortunate side affect of climate change), has been big news in the cruise industry the past couple years. But for 2019, we are shifting focus to its eastern sister route, the Northeast Passage. In August, Silversea will set sail for the first time ever from Nome, Alaska, to Tromsø in Norway. Passengers with 25 days and $37,260 to spare will tick off a veritable bucket list of near-impossible-to-reach sites, including the polar bear haven of Wrangel Island (pictured) and Murmansk, Russia, the largest city north of the Arctic Circle. (An objective of the Silver Explorer? Venture as far north as possible with the hopes of spotting walrus and seals on the ice.) In between the Zodiac expeditions along the icebergs, the ship’s 144 passengers can expect all the bells and whistles that come with a five-figure price tag, including personal butlers, silver service dining, and whip-fast Wi-Fi so they can make loved ones back home, sick with jealousy every day out at sea.