Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Where the cool kids are going in 2012

I'm always fascinated by the "Where to Go?" lists that get published in newspapers, magazines and on websites at the beginning of every year. They're usually a good combination of predictable and random, but more importantly, they make me want to immediately plan a trip, as they remind me of all the amazing places I haven't yet been. Where are you planning to go in 2012? More importantly, where should you go? It took me awhile, but I culled through 11 of the 2012 travel lists, from Smarter Travel to National Geographic Traveler*.

The lists are often based on events happening in the upcoming year, so not surprisingly, there were a number of destinations picked multiple times, some of which were terribly surprising. If you are looking for where the cool kids are going this year, here are your top 10 picks:

1. London: The most popular pick by far was the British capital, which appeared on eight lists. Between the the Queen's Diamond Jubilee at the beginning of June and the summer Olympics starting at the end of June, this was no surprise. But let's face it, London is worth a visit any time; it's always at the top of my list.

2. Mundo Maya: The region appeared on six lists because, dontcha know it, the world is ending on December 21. As Smarter Travel said, "Celebrations, themed tours, and ceremonies throughout the year offer a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the ancient archeological sites and modern culture of the Maya people." Some of the lists chose Mexico (Yucutan peninsula and the city of Merida), while others went for Belize or Guatemala. (I'm team Belize all the way.)

3. Portugal: Guimaraes is the European Capital of Culture for 2012, in addition to being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so I wasn't all that surprised to see the city popping up on four lists. (The New York Times went rogue with the Algarve, while the Lonely Planet Best Value list went with Porto.) But what actually struck me as most interesting was the absence of the other 2012 European Capital of Culure: Maribor, Slovenia, which was only mentioned by Smarter Travel. What, no one wants to go to Slovenia? I haven't been but have heard it's awesome. Seriously, just look at this photo.

4. Myanmar: Travelers have long debated whether Myanmar (otherwise known as Burma) should be on their to-travel list due to its repressive government. But with a thawing of relations with the outside world and Aung San Suu Kyi's dropping of her opposition to tourism in the country, Myanmar seems like a place travelers will now be hearing about quite a bit.

5. Cuba: Speaking of a thawing...It's now easier for Americans to visit Cuba, so no surprise, Cuba also appeared on four 2012 travel lists. However, you have to go on some kind of tour; I'm not exactly clear on the rules.

6. Japan: Generally, I tallied the list by city, not country. (For example, there were some 20 US mentions, but for 20 different places, so I didn't count any as multiple entries.) The exception to this was Japan. Although four lists went for four different places -- two went for Japan generally, while the New York Times picked Tokyo specifically and Frommers went for the model green city of Fukuoka -- every one picked Japan for the same reason: the earthquake/tsunami. Prices have gone down because of a decrease in tourism, making now a good time to visit (and they need visitors back).

7. Panama: The Central American country is going through a general transformation, with a building boom, the canal anniversary and expansion slated for 2014, and the opening of the Frank Gehry-designed Bio-Museum. Fodors' wrote: "Panama’s ongoing building boom is one for the ages. Panama City's transformed skyline features dozens of new skyscrapers, including the Trump Ocean Club and Waldorf Astoria's Panamera (slated to open in June), while once gritty neighborhoods like UNESCO site Casco Viejo, a cobblestoned town of aging colonial and neoclassical buildings, now charms with atmospheric boutique hotels and buzzing restaurants." I know this write-up is supposed to make me want to go, but instead, it made me realize how much a destination's "travel-forwardness" is related to globalization...which made me sad. Does Panama City need a Trump something-or-other and a Waldorf hotel to be cool and interesting? What's wrong with it just being itself?

8. The Northern Lights: This is probably my favorite entry, mostly because the Northern Lights are amazing (and if you've never seen them, this is the trip for you). Apparently, aurora borealis activity peaks every 11 years and this year, one of the 11, is supposed to be especially good, and possibly will be able to be seen farther south than usual. As a result, three lists went with aurora borealis destinations -- Jetsetter went with Reykjavic, Fodors went with Stockholm and Swedish lapland, while the Telegraph just went generic, saying, "in addition to the customary viewing spots of northern Scandinavia, Canada and Russia, the aurora's distinctive green and gold streamers could easily be visible in the skies above Scotland and northern England, and possibly much farther beyond."

9. Ukraine, Jordan and Sweden: Each of these three countries got three mentions each. Ukraine was mentioned as an interesting place to visit if you're already there for summer's Euro 2012 soccer tournament. Jordan got the nod for being interesting and remaining of the Middle East's safest destinations. Sweden is apparently generating interest because of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, though why anyone would be inspired to see such a lovely country after experiencing it through that uber-violent novel (and movie, which I have refused to see) is beyond me. South Korea and Peru also got three mentions each and while each list cited a different reason to visit, it struck me as interesting, mostly because both places just seem so random for multiple mentions on these kinds of lists. (South Korea is apparently golf's new hot spot, according to the New York Times, while National Geographic Traveler says Peru is the next foodie frontier).

10. And last but not least, Spain got itself four mentions -- two for Cadiz and two for the Girona area. I bring this up because I particularly adore Cadiz. It's such an amazing little city and one of my favorite places in Europe. There's nothing in particular to do, although it does have beaches, a fort and a dazzling white cathedral, but it has a lovely, relaxed vibe. In fact, I snapped the photo accompanying this post there while sitting at an outdoor cafe.

*If you really want to know, the 11 lists I looked at were: Fodors' online list of 21 places, Frommers, Jetsetter's 12 Destinations for 2012, National Geographic Adventure's Best Adventure Destinations, National Geographic Traveler in-magazine article, The New York Times list of its 45 places,  three Lonely Planet lists (on the Top 10 Cities for 2012, Top 10 Countries for 2012 and the Top 10 Best Value Destinations for 2012), Smarter Travel and The Telegraph. Pin It

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