It’s that time of year again where media outlets entice us with lists. Lots of ‘em. Aside from being reminded of the famous folks who are no longer with us and which top films of the year we’ve missed, favorites are the ones that bundle the “hot” travel destinations for the year ahead—hot, of course, being a relative term, depending on the audience for each publishing prognosticator.
I sometimes get depressed whenever a place that I fell in love with years ago, when it would barely register on travelers’ (and travel-editors’) minds, is now “in”—meaning that it likely has become too touristy and has lost its off-the-beaten-path charm. But then I slap myself and remember that I live in one of the most-visited places on the planet (New York City) and regularly visit another place travelers often complain is too touristy (Thailand), yet continue to find new ways to enjoy both of these “over-discovered” destinations.
So, without further ado, following is my list of 10 places that I’m either definitely visiting or hoping to get to in 2012, depending upon timing and ever-challenging budgetary restrictions. (To see a round-up of the various official “where to go in 2012” travel lists, check out my Review of Lists post on the Travel Industry News Blog at Uptake.com.)
1. Culebra, Puerto Rico
Buzz about this laid-back island off the coast of Puerto Rico in the Spanish Virgin Islands has been building for the past couple years, but it still seems chill and cheap enough to plan a spontaneous getaway there for this winter. I’m in desperate need of a week on an island in the sun, enjoying fresh fish and sleeping in a hammock while reading books whose titles I won’t care to remember within a few days of returning.
2. Taos, New Mexico
A friend has an adobe house in Taos that she rents out to travelers and for retreats. It’s high time I gave it a firsthand look. I fell in love with this northern New Mexico town years ago moving said friend from New York City. Even though I’ve visited since, I’m long overdue for a return, especially to experience those brilliant Southwest color-field sunsets, the peaceful Sangre de Cristo Mountains and long drives into the middle of nowhere where you never know when you’re going to run into alternative-lifestyle folks living off-the-grid.
3. Chicago, Illinois
Even though I left it for New York, Chicago will always be the city with which I had my first urban love affair: world-class architecture and museums; excellent theater, music and dance scenes; funky shops; and cheap bars and increasingly innovative restaurants. Let’s not forget beaches, right in the middle of the city! Even though it continues to evolve, Chicago also seems to remain the same: Plenty of old favorite neighborhood haunts haven’t changed in decades. I return in late March for a wedding, so no beach plans this time around. And Charlie Trotter announced this week that he’s closing his eponymous restaurant, 25 years after he helped put the Chicago culinary scene on the map. I guess some things can’t stay the same forever.
Aside from the obvious reasons for wanting to visit Kenya—safaris, wildlife preserves, Lake Victoria, and its interesting mix of African, Middle Eastern, Indian and European Colonial cultures—a good friend of mine is currently living in Nairobi. It’s always better to visit places when you know a “local.” Plus, it’s a country in transition, with a new constitution taking effect and a presidential election (already pushed back from August 2012 to December). There have been concerns voiced about post-election violence, so better to visit beforehand.
5. Cádiz, Spain
My husband and I nearly visited Cádiz during our honeymoon in 2010, but we ended up down the Andalucían Costa de la Luz beachside in Tarifa (which we loved). Cádiz is one of the oldest cities in Western Europe, dating back to the ancient Phoenician era, yet 2012 marks its modern-day bicentenary year, so the city has numerous special events planned, including a pumped-up Carnival in March, historical re-enactments and a tall-ships race beginning July 26.
6. London, England
I’ve been to London nearly a dozen times, most recently in 2008, and there are plenty of other places I’ve never been to yet that I’d like to see in 2012. But after attending the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and getting caught up in its atmosphere and energy, I have to admit that I’m considering splurging to do the same with the 2012 Summer Games. It’ll be a visit to London unlike any other.
7. Belfast, Ireland
April 14, 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, and Belfast is closely related to the doomed ship, which was built in the city’s then-famous Harland and Wolff shipyards. In honor of the event, the new Titanic Belfast museum and experience opens on March 31. I went on a hard-hat construction tour of the facilities in September, and it looks like it’s going to be an awesome attraction, even for visitors who might not be that into the whole Titantic phenomenon. Plus, even though I was just there a few months ago, I had such a fantastic time rediscovery this newly revitalized city—especially compared to my first visit in 1994 before the Northern Ireland peace agreement—that I can’t wait to bring my husband there to explore some more.
This country of Buddhist temples, jungles, and romanticized culture and history was first on my must-visit list when I was traveling through Southeast Asia more than a decade ago. But I was nearing the end of my sabbatical and chose to spend a month in Vietnam instead as I figured that country would change far more rapidly than Myanmar/Burma would. I was right. But with new leaders elected in November 2010, travel restrictions have eased, Aung San Suu Kyi is no longer under house arrest, there are Western state visits again, and the world is considering lifting its “banned nation” status on the country—which means the tourism industry is going to go gaga for this place. Must get there soon.
I’m returning to Cambodia in November for the first time since 2000, and I can’t wait. I’ll be bringing a friend from Chicago to celebrate her milestone birthday, and the country is tops on her wish list as she’s been wanting to visit ever since her family took in Cambodian refugees back in the late 1970s. Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat ruins, and the Sihanoukville beaches so far are on our list, as is exploring inland. But while last time I enjoyed traveling via pick-up truck and jeep through what was then still Khmer Rouge country—even after being held up by AK-47-toting locals—my friend is going to prefer a less-rustic experience.
10. Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico
Get away from overcrowded and overpriced Cancun and the Riviera Maya, explore more than just the most famous Mayan temples of Chichen Itza and Tulum, and get to know the real Yucatán. I’ve spent time alone in the region during the past few Decembers (alas, not in 2011 however), and I’m always enchanted by each new village, historic church and ruin that I visit. I definitely want to be there for the entire month of December 2012. If the Mayans are correct and the world as we know it ends—or, more accurately, transitions on December 21—then I want to be in a Mayan destination when it happens. Regardless, all the myriad festivals that take place in the region during the second half of the month will be even more kick-ass than usual.