The Top Four Bucket List Destinations for 2019
The new year always brings change and adventure. At Travelzoo, this comes with an updated list of places we just have to see before the next year is up. The hottest destinations fight for the top spot and in 2019 the must-see list is the best we've come across for a while. From cruising Cuba's cobblestone streets in a vintage Chevrolet and luxury resorts on idyllic Fijian islands to sunrise hikes in the African desert and Japan's fusion of the ancient and modern, here is 2019's definitive holiday bucket list.
Africa: Cradle of Humanity and Home to the Big Five
Far from the usual safari holiday, Namibia is a kingdom of its own. Home to some of the most captivating landscapes on earth; sunburnt-orange sand dunes, vast canyons, and the shipwreck-lined Skeleton Coast as well as a diverse culture.
Within the one country, there are 12 ethnic groups and over 30 languages spoken. Among the melting pot of tribes who represent humankind's past - and also its present - is the Himba Tribe. Semi-nomadic and true to their traditions, Himba people roam the remote Northwest corner of Namibia where women smear their skin in a flawless mixture of ochre, butter, and ash. Visits to the Himba tribe and some of the other indigenous groups in the area provide a rare opportunity to interact with other cultures. Namibia is also a great place to see wildlife and in Etosha National Park you can spot the Big Five while also visiting an other-worldly salt pan that can be seen from space.
Landlocked and rich in vibrant jade jungle, Botswana is a stark contrast to its vast desert neighbour. Home to the largest population of elephants in the world and the mighty Okavango Delta, the country is a haven for wildlife viewing. Board a boat on the Chobe River and watch a herd of elephants playfully splash around, see hippos semi-submerged among lily pads and watch crocodiles lazily laying on the river’s edge. We recommend staying inside the Chobe National Park - there are a number of resorts to choose from - where you can head down to a watering hole lit with a floodlight at night and watch the dynamics of the animal kingdom unfold.
Cuba: Visit Now Before the Rest of the World Does
There is much more to Cuba than its dreamy, ivory-white sandy beaches, forest-covered mountains, and sun-kissed Caribbean shores. This is the land of salsa, vintage 1950’s Chevrolets, pastel-coloured architecture and a history of a complicated affair with the USA.
Untouched by travellers for decades, Cuba’s tourism has boomed in the past couple of years as word of this incredible destination has spread. The country embraces tourists; you can now dive deep into the local culture and the vibrant pulse of the people with authentic, locally-run experiences such as dining with a Cuban family in their living room, learning the rumba or salsa in home-based studios and driving around Old Havana in a vintage Chevrolet with its owner.
Old Havana is where you’ll find cigar-smoking locals asking for a street-side dance in narrow alleyways, Che Guevara posters plastered on weathered walls and UNESCO World Heritage sites. Head to a paladares for a local meal of ropa vieja and cerviche or meander the colourful streets that resemble a backdrop of a Cuban film.
Trinidad is a colonial treasure on the edge of sparkling seas. It is Cuba's best-preserved city with extravagant palaces and home to cobblestone streets and horse-and-carriage transport. Nearby you'll find the picture-perfect beach Playa Ancon. Cycle or taxi there for a refreshing rum cocktail. Further north, Cienfuegos is a colonial-era town with gold leaf mosaics and ceiling frescoes and beyond the cities, the road signs become less frequent and the sense of adventure sets in. Visit the emerald hills of Valle de los Ingenios, tobacco plantations, the idyllic Bay of Pigs with a dark history and the culturally-rich village of Viñales.
In partnership with Cuban Adventures Cuba Tours, an Australian travel company who specialises in small-group, eco-friendly tours of Cuba.
Fiji: Five-Star Luxury & Authentic Fijian Island Vibes
With over 300 Fijian islands to choose from, it is hard to know which one deserves your bucket list tick of approval. The entire island nation tops plenty of travel lists but there is one boutique island that deserves bucket list attention. Located in the Mamanuca Group of islands, Tokoriki Island is a jewel in the Fijian crown. The Sheraton Resort & Spa, Tokoriki Island is our top pick as the luxurious beachfront oasis encompasses indulgence and traditional Fijian culture. Including all the five-star trimmings and an adults-only area, the resort allows you to experience kava tasting ceremonies, and dance and music performances at the Cultural Centre.
Choose to stay in one of the 101 guestrooms and suites, which have a fusion of traditional and vogue-like Fijian furnishings - some have private balconies overlooking the sparkling seas of the Pacific Ocean. Slip into laid-back, island-vibes and spend your days snorkelling among clownfish, sipping cocktails in the infinity pool overlooking emerald isles and cobalt oceans or indulging in luxury spa treatments. If you're after some adventure, the island has its own reef with plenty of diving and fishing spots, while on land you can break a sweat at sunrise and go hiking. Treat yourself and indulge in a Fijian holiday that is synonymous with happy locals, escapism and luxury.
Japan: An Unforgettable Experience at any Time of Year
Japan is a visual phenomenon at any time of year. Spring brings the ever-changing colours of pink-hued cherry blossoms, autumn blankets cities and parks in vibrant crimson and orange leaves, the north is cloaked in ghost-white snow during winter and summer brings sun-soaked forests; it's always a good time to visit Japan.
Along with the seasonal contrasts within the country, there are also vast differences in futuristic, neon-lit Tokyo which is well-known for its ultramodern skyscrapers blended in among historic temples. Harajuku is an area of town which doubles as an outdoor catwalk as fashion-forward individuals walk the streets showing off colourful Japanese fashion, while Kamakura - just south of the city - is where you'll experience medieval Japan full of Shinto shrines and Buddhist Zen temples.
Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan, is a cultural and historical hub with more than 1600 temples and shrines. You can spend your days walking around ancient sites, including Heian Shinto Shrine, and Nijo Castle, while a visit to Hiroshima will take you back to the dark history of World War 2 and the infamous atomic bomb.
Natural delights in Japan include Miyajima, a small island with emerald forests and ancient temples, proud Mt Fuji standing well above the clouds (3,776 meters above sea level) and the blooming Kenrokuen Garden.
Tip: Japan will be on the global stage in 2019 as Rugby fans all over the world flock to the Landing of the Rising Sun for the World Cup. Lock in tours for Japan before the rest of the world catches on.
In partnership with Inspiring Vacations, an Australian tour operator who bring you culturally unique and delightfully unforgettable flight-inclusive travel packages to the world's favourite destinations at a value for money price.