18 Places to Go in 2018
From a Greek island without the crowds to Colombia’s newly-revealed natural wonders, here are a few destinations worth traveling to this year.
Take everything you love about the Greek Isles - whitewashed architecture, rocky swimming coves, hilltop tavernas - and subtract the crowds. This 165-square-mile island, (the largest in Cyclades chain), relies less on tourism and more on agriculture than its prime-time sisters, a rarity in the Greek Isles. Sail to Naxos on Seabourn's 14 day, round trip from Athens voyage aboard the 458 passenger Seabourn Odyssey. For a customized day of exploration, ask me and I'll work with a Virtuoso on site for your vacation to set up the best tour connections and shore excursions.
Come for the party, stay for the surprising serenity. The Med's capital of debauchery is known for its beach bars, cavernous nightclubs, and 4 a.m. DJ sets, but a decidedly more bohemian vibe makes daylight appealing too. After late nights, (or, let's be honest, early mornings), in the town of San Antonio, retreat to the 205 room ME-Ibiza (pictured) for rooftop spa treatments and poolside cabanas.
Mexico's pacific enclave comprising Cabos San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo gets a lavish boost this year. In addition to the spring opening of the 122 room Montage Los Cabos, a hand full of other five-star projects are in the pipeline. For now, escape the winter blues at 84 room Las Ventanas al Paraiso, where a pop up champagne bar on the beach beats scraping ice off the windshield any day.
After a half century of civil war, a 2016 accord between the government and the jungle-based Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has introduced a new era of peace to the country. More than 50 parks and reserves once deemed war zones are reopening, revealing rainbow-hued rivers and beautiful alpine lakes. Start your eco-exploration at Tayrona National Natural Park (picture above), where tropical cloud forest tumbles down to the Caribbean. I love working with Big Five Tours & Expeditions, who are leaders in promoting peace through tourism in Colombia.
Landslide damaged roads and made Big Sur's redwood forests and cinematic coastline largely inaccessible for most of last year, (Post Ranch Inn helicoptered guests in), but parts of California's highways 1 reopened in October, ushering in the area's newest addition. The former Ventana Inn & Spa reemerged as the 59 room Ventana Big Sur, with updated accommodations, an art gallery, 15 glamping tents, and an activity center offering beekeeping lessons and guided photography treks.
Iceland' next biggest attractions are far from the famed Blue Lagoon. Travel to the Land of Fire and Ice is up fivefold since 2010, and Iceland is the top emerging destination in Virtuoso's 2018 Luxe Report, an annual trend survey of travel advisors. The key to having untouched glaciers and dramatic vistas to yourself is to go beyond the Ring Road, to areas still relatively undiscovered by tourists. One idea, that I've booked for clients is Backroads' six-day Northern Iceland trip, which includes hiking along Eyjafjordur, whalewatching off the coast of Husavik, (picture above), and biking through some of the area's most charming fishing villages.
Alaska by Ship
Alaska's cruise boom continues: Norwegian's cruise line 4,004 passenger Norwegian Bliss debuts in June, bound for Ketchikan; Princess Cruises is increasing its Alaskan cruise capacity by 15 percent; and even transatlantic queen Cunard wants in, with plans to sail to Alaska in 2019 for the first time in more than 20 years. All this competition means that cruise lines are aiming to impress, luring passengers with enhancements such as craft beer and Broadway shows on the Bliss, and immersive shore excursions such as Seabourn's new four-day pre- or post- cruise land adventure deep in Denali National Park and Preserve.
The Kimberley, Australia
Occupying 162,000 square miles in Northwest Australia, the Kimberley is one of the world's most remotest regions - a Planet Earth-worthy expanse of burnt-red sandstone formations and isolated savannas. Land adventures departing from Broome are popular, but approaching this wild coastline by sea is a pleasant alternative. This year, Silversea adds more Kimberley sailings on its 116 passenger Silver Discoverer, including a ten-day, Darwin-to-Broome that dives into the region via Zodiac rides through horizontal waterfalls, and treks with Aboriginal guides to century-old stone formations and rock paintings.
San Blas Islands, Panama
Paradise found off Panama's north coast: 365-palm fringed swaths of sand scattered across the Caribbean. The San Blas Islands, or Guna Yala, are controlled by the Kuna, an indigenous group known for their bright, handmade mola blouses. I like to use tour operator Blue Parallel to help customize a catamaran trip to the San Blas, with three days in Panama City and four days sailing around the islands. The getaway promises deserted beaches, lobster dinners, and time with the Kuna people.
Attention turned to Mexico City last fall when a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck near Puebla. While certainly tragic, it doesn't mean you should cancel your travel plans. Mexico City is on the global stage for a more celebratory reason too: It's been named the 2018 World Design Capital, the first city in the Americas to earn the title. Creativity can be found everywhere here: Mexico City has one of the world's largest concentrations of museums and February's annual Zona Maco is the country's equivalent to Art Basel. New shops and bazaar-style markets display an emerging sartorial scene, including Barrio Alameda, a collection of galleries and boutiques in a revamped art deco building in the Centro Historico district. The 189 room St. Regis Mexico City connects guests with stylist Marco Corral for an in-the-know tour of the Condesa and Roma neighborhoods' best shops.
World class athletes will meet in Pyeongchang, South Korea, this February for the Winter Olympics. While they go for the gold, three hours east of Seoul, the k-beauty obsessed will be reaching out for sheet masks - and serums, skin elixirs, and pore foams. The country's skincare products line U.S. shelves, but travelers to the source are rewarded with affordable spa treatments, hard-to-find indie brands, and, in the Myeongdong neighborhood, entire streets lined with beauty-product shops. Get beauty sleep at the 185 room Park Hyatt Seoul in the posh Gangnam district.
Norway topped the list in last year's United Nations' World Happiness Report, and one visit to its capital affirms why. Beyond the revitalized Bjorvika waterfront, hip restaurants and food halls introduce travelers to seasonal New Nordic cuisine, (try it at three Michelin starred Maaemo), and locals convene over their love of a good cup of coffee at Fuglen. Spend a few days in Oslo on 50 Degrees North's new private, ten-day Scandinavian city-hopping jaunt, with stops in Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Bergen, Norway.
A chance to see endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat draws nature lovers to Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park, where a large group of the last remaining of these ape's reside. Rwanda languished in the shadow of its 1994 genocide for more than a decade, but a stable government and a 30 percent increase in tourism in the past two years have put this small central African nation on travelers' lists. A wave of new upscale, (and conservation-minded), accommodations help, too, including Wilderness Safaris', Six Villa Bisate Lodge, which recently opened near the park. Spend eight days hiking, gorilla trekking, and learning about Rwandan history on a private Abercrombie & Kent Tour - love using them!
Intrepid wanderers don't go to Ethiopia for the "big five." The country deals more in the history of humankind and Simien mountain gorges than in vast savannas and classic safaris. Lakani World Tours' ten-day private exploration provides a proper introduction, with visits to museums and open-air markets in Addis Ababa, cave churches in Lalibela, and the Simien Mountains National Park to look for gelada baboons.
The island nation off Mozambique promises magic on multiple levels. Focus on the eastern and southern sides of Madagascar while meeting members of the Antandroy tribe and spying on ring-tailed lemurs in gallery forests during African's Travels ten-day journey.
Hilltop castles straight out of a fairy tale. Hot springs, vast forests, and alpine lakes. Medieval towns with cobblestone streets and Venetian-inspired architecture. They're all packed into this compact country bordered by Croatia, Austria, Italy and Hungary. Virtuoso travel advisors, such as myself, can work with Luxury Slovenia, a Virtuoso on-site tour connection, to create a varied itinerary that covers everything from the country's most photographed spot, Lake Bled, to hard to snag reservations at Hisa Franco, the rural restaurant owned by Chef's Table star, (and 2017 World's Best Female Chef), Ana Ros.
Maui's traditional draws may be lazy beach days and volcano-top sunrises, but on the Western slopes of Haleakala, a thriving homegrown culinary scene shines. Farmers invite visitors to sample goat cheese, coffee, and lavender scones, and pop-up-farm-to-table dinners draw chefs from afar. Go big with a new experience from the 383 room Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, which includes a helicopter transfer to Piiholo Ranch for a day in the Upcountry with its owners, Peter Baldwin, a fifth-generation paniolo, (cowboy).
Immaculate Buddhist temples and French colonial architecture are highlights of Luang Prabang, Laos' former Royal capital along the Mekong River, a relatively undeveloped destination that's less traveled than other in Southeast Aisa - for now. Luxury hotels are on their way to tap into the UNESCO World Heritage city's peaceful appeal. Settle in at the 24 room Amantaka, where, as part of the resort's new meditation retreats, guests witness the city's daily Buddhist almsgiving ceremony.