When I look back at the places I’ve traveled to in 2015, I can’t help but feel incredibly lucky to have ridden camels in the Sahara, ventured into the medina of Marrakech, danced during warm nights in Cartagena, explored Death Valley and eaten farm-to-table cuisine in Jamaica. Every country has left a wonderful imprint on my heart and mind as I look at the past year like a shimmering kaleidoscope of wonderful memories. Every year around this time I spot these lists touting the must-see places of the New Year. It’s difficult to make a definitive list of up and coming destinations but for the following 6 countries, a boom in tourism, rise of awareness and growing excitement to discover their culture has put them at the top of my 2016 list.
I’ll be heading to Oaxaca in February in partnership with newly launched Cantimplora Travel, a young tour company founded by Mexican photographers with an eye for beauty and passion for eco-friendly travel. Before Cantimplora approached me, Oaxaca had been on my list for awhile as it is often hailed as the go-to spot for amazing Mexican food. Admittedly, I first learned of Oaxaca’s food legacy while reading Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour. In the book, Bourdain ventures to Mexico to chase both modern and old food trends. From hand made tamales to side-of-the-road tacos, every bite he takes seems to be colorful, fragrant and a far stretch from the Tex-Mex cuisine we see in the States. Bourdain eventually winds up in beautiful Oaxaca where the delectable (and cheap!) cuisine is outshone only by the colorful culture. Of course, Oaxaca is home to more than just delicious meals and that is exactly why I’ll be kicking off 2016 with a visit to explore it–from its crafts to its food to its scenic views!
In the past two years, Colombia’s colorful seaside city of Cartagena has been capturing the attention of travelers. Ever since JetBlue launched its direct route out of New York’s JFK airport, Cartagena seems to be where New Yorkers go when seeking someplace exotic but affordable, abroad yet close. Bogota on the other hand is often overlooked as travelers seem to fly through Bogota en route to Cartagena and its warmer Caribbean weather. Bogota—Colombia’s capital–is tucked away in the mountains and is home to a thriving food scene and beautiful architecture; a stop worth making a destination in the New Year.
Morocco’s largest city, Casablanca, is often thought of as the gateway between Europe and Africa. The beautiful city sits right on the Atlantic Ocean and is home to the spectacular Hassan II mosque, which sits right on a cliff facing the ocean and is the 7th largest mosque in the world. The beauty of Casablanca is it tends to fall in the shadow of Marrakech and therefore remains largely under visited by tourists. Of course, that is likely to change with the opening of the Four Seasons at Anfa Place and the construction of the Al Noor Tower, which will be the tallest Africa. In other words, visit this beautiful city before the rest of the world does!
If there is any destination bound to be on the top of everyone’s 2016 list, chances are it will be Cuba. Cuba whose borders have remained closed for so long to Americans, whose culture has been left relatively unknown and frozen in time is now on the brink of becoming the hottest travel spot of the New Year. Voted a top destination to visit in 2016 by Travel + Leisure, “Havana has become one of the most exciting destinations. It is now a real possibility that this year, anyone will be able to plan a trip there without signing up for a rigid people-to-people tour. Verizon now has coverage, and ferry operators have received the thumbs-up from the American government to start service (they are awaiting the okay from the Cuban side). American Airlines and JetBlue have nonstop charter flights to Havana from Los Angeles and New York City, respectively.” Lets just hope that Cuba is ready for the impending tsunami of tourists that will be arriving!
There’s just something about Guatemala that has captivated my imagination. Perhaps it’s the photos of its smiling locals proudly weaving vibrant crafts. Perhaps it’s the cobblestone streets and framed archways of Antigua in the shadow of the Volcán Pacaya. Whatever it is, when it came to thinking of my next trip, colorful and affordable Guatemala immediately came to mind. Imagine my surprise when I learned that Guatemala also happens to be a destination of 2016! According to Travel + Leisure, “with 2015’s crackdown on political corruption out of the way and a new president at the helm, travel to Guatemala is looking brighter than it has in years.” Home to Mayan ruins, the beautiful and historic UNESCO city of Antigua, artisan crafts, volcanoes and more–it’s wonderful to see this country getting the recognition it deserves.
A few years ago I ventured to Panama and couldn’t ignore the siren’s call of Bocas del Toro. The chain of islands had been recommended to me by a friend who swore by the pristine beaches, friendly ex-pat, surf community and balmy weather. When I arrived in Bocas del Toro, I could see why so many ex-pats now called these chain of islands home. The community is happy and vibrant, the islands in close range of each other so that you can take a water taxi to one island for a night out and then make it home to your island when finished. The islands are small enough that you can rent one of the many vintage bicycles and explore the entirety of the island within one day. The scenery is beautiful enough to warrant photo after photo; while the mainland is close enough to take a boat to and go explore the jungles and local indigenous communities. Bocas del Toros is a thriving destination that offers everything for everyone—from a beach getaway, to a cultural excursion to a party-vibe to an active adventure.
Where are you headed in the New Year? What are your 2016 destinations? Share you list in the comments section below!