2020 certainly was a challenging year for travelers seeking to tick items off their bucket list, but 2021 already got better in terms of travel opportunities, so don't let that stop you from researching more places to visit!
Only, where to start?
There are so many beautiful places on Earth and if one thing is for sure, one lifetime isn't enough to visit and take the time to enjoy them all.
As a starting point, I've asked travel experts, bloggers, and frequent travellers to give me one of their favorite destinations.
Here are the 30 top destinations that travel experts recommend in 2021.
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Top 10 Countries to Visit
It’s probably one of these countries you think is too cold to be enjoyable. Think again. Iceland’s waterfalls rival the Niagara’s and it boasts the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull. The capital, Reykjavik, lets you see the sea and neighboring hills from its heart, in Hallgrimskirkja church.
Ok, names tend to be complicated, I’ll give you that. But that wasn’t enough to outrank Iceland from the top of Fodor’s Travel’s Hot Spots to Visit in Europe. The Blue Lagoon is a paradise in itself, where you can swim in warm waters while surrounded by the snow.
I mean, there IS a reason for travel blogger Britney Fitzgerald to qualify Iceland as “nothing less than enchanting”, right? The travel expert went on a road trip there and shared what you need to know about Iceland, should you want to follow in her footsteps. And I suppose that it’s one of every Instagram fanatic to add a picture of Iceland’s black sand beaches to their account. It’s one of mine anyway.
What about free diving in the world’s clearest waters like Kiki Bosch?
The savviest travelers argue about the best vacation spots you should visit in Canada, but they NEVER question whether the Lumberjack Country is worth it. It is.
Canada even tops Lonely Planet’s 2017 Top Countries to visit. You might want to head there for its unbelievably welcoming people or its lively cities. On Quora, the vacations guide Sivakumar recommends taking a look at the iconic CN Tower of Toronto and a detour by the Old Quebec.
Love the people, come for the nature
But with the 150th anniversary of the Confederation, put on your trekking shoes and go into full-backpacker mode. For the occasion, the country lets its nature aficionado into its splendid national parks for free, as Hannah Tydeman-Klassen, founder and director of Curio Trips, points out.
Her travel expert tip? Don’t miss the Northern Lights in Yukon, because they will enter their dormant phase starting from next year. It’s now or… much later.
Discover Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s past as a backpacker in his interview with Lonely Planet.
If I told you South East Asia, I bet Myanmar wouldn’t instinctively make it into your “best vacation spots” list. Marcos Detourist, travel expert in the best heritage sites and cultural hotspots, acknowledges that people are usually surprised when he tells them that Myanmar is inevitably on his top picks list. "The ancient temples here are breathtaking”, he claims. It doesn’t have much to envy Cambodia when it comes to historic cities and landscape diversity.
Lonely Planet predicts that the country previously known as Burma is bound to welcome an increasing amount of travelers, as soon as 2017. You’d better head there ASAP if you don’t want to take a glimpse at one of Asia’s most intriguing traditional heritage.
Attractions for everyone
Myanmar is nothing less than Insight Guides Daisy Cropper’s “favorite place in the world”. Although she also underlines the “wealth of cultural sites and temples” in Harper’s Bazaar’s Best Vacations in the World, she insists that everyone will find their happiness there. Sandy-beach chiller, thrill-seeking hiker or culture-enthusiast explorer: come as you are!
Thought hot-air balloons were restricted to Cappadocia? Source: Lonely Planet
Looking for one of the cheapest destinations that will immediately fill your “need-to-escape-the-city” gauge and get you back in touch with Mother Earth? Look no further.
Forbes listed Costa Rica among its 30 cheapest places to travel in 2017. Not only is transportation ridiculously cheap, but same goes for housing fees! Count no more than $10 for a bus ride, no matter how long, and sometimes only as much for a place to stay, even in front of the beach. Founder of Big World Small Pocket Stephanie Parker suggests that you take a walk through one of the many national parks. Except if the perspective of running into monkeys or sloths seems toо uninteresting to you.
Point break in real life
Once you've satisfied your craving for ecotourism and connected with nature, it's beach time!
The country boasts tons of great surf spots, crowded for most of them. The Expert Vagabond Matthew Karsten recommends that you head to Nosara instead. Whether you’re as good as Kelly Slater or still have a good progression margin ahead of you, as ClaimCompass’ Chief Marketing Officer Alexander Sumin does, you’ll find a beach that suits your skills.
Take a look at Costa Rica’s beauty from a drone with Ayawaska Productions [VIDEO]
True, Costa Rica is a staple of ecotourism. And yet, Segera Retreat in Kenya doesn’t need to blush shame, especially since it can also offer solitude to the lone wolf inside of you. The property’s efforts are concentrated on maintaining a sustainable way of life privileging solar energy and ecological cultivation. It’s “nothing like I have seen before”, testified Travel Junkie Diary founder Michelle Karam in CNN’s travel destinations not to miss.
Not enough? The tip that Africa travel expert Nicky Brandon from Ker & Downey shares, is to head to the isolated village of Sasaab and sleep under the stars. Yet your trip wouldn’t be complete if you hadn’t seen Special Five, the unique animals of the region: “reticulated giraffe, Grevy's zebra, gerenuk, Somali ostrich and beisa oryx”.
Land of the Masai... and the Lion King
And if the fauna still isn’t enough, how about a place that mixes both a captivating wildlife and a fascinating people? The Masai Mara National Reserve ranks among Touropia’s best places to visit in Africa. It reunites both Masai villages waiting to share their culture and lions, rulers of Savannah.*Take a deep dive into Maasai's life through the eyes of 8-year-old Naresiah with Operation Blessing International*
No country in this list drew as much unanimity for Top Travel Destination as Portugal. Its second-largest city, Porto, ranks among Lonely Planet’s Top Value cities for its affordable (and yet delicious) cuisine and its cheap housing. You can easily find a good meal accompanied by a glass of wine for 5€, according to Jackie Nourse, founder of TheBudgetMindedTraveler.
Then again, if you’re a culture addict, Lisbon might (read: should) be on your list as well. The city is on Lonely Planet’s Top Cities ranking for the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian and Museu Colecção Berardo, respectively for their precious Egyptian artifacts and pop art collection. That’s not even taking the beauty of the capital itself into account. The Indie Traveller Marek would even argue that it’s “one of the best under-the-radar destinations in Europe right now.”
In the middle of the ocean
The cherry on the pasteis de nata (a traditional local cake you have to try, take my word for it)? Even if you’re not too much of a continental type of person, the country still has something to offer you. Hop on a plane, direction the Azores archipelago, further into the Atlantic Ocean. Not just because of its 9 volcanic islands! Chill culture, villages from the Middle-Age and landscapes ranging from lost-in-the-middle-of-nowhere hot springs to semi-active craters: that’s what awaits you.
Porto by night doesn't look so bad, does it? Now just imagine the Azores... Booked your ticket yet?
Few African countries attract as many tourists as the Kingdom of Morocco. Not far from monopolizing Trip Advisor’s 2017 Travelers Choice Destinations in Africa podium, the cities of Marrakesh, Merzouga and Fes respectively achieve 1st, 2nd and 4th place.
The slight advantage the country offers to its adventure-loving backpackers? A network of cheap hostels that keeps on growing. On the road since 2012, travel addict Marek praises the gateway to Africa as “a fantastic budget getaway”. And that goes not only for its smaller villages full of exotism but also for its main cities. The frenetic Marrakesh is booming and remains the country’s top destinations. Yet, the now directly accessible by plane seaside jewel Essaouira seduces more travelers every day. With the reborn port city of Tangier, the 3 cities make Morocco a Best Value destination for Lonely Planet.
Unrecognized haven for foodies
And what better way is there to enjoy the low prices than to fill your belly with the Kingdom’s typical dishes? Full-time photographer and content creator specializing in travel and tourism Lucie Josma, notes that the country will be all the more appreciated by vegetarians and vegans. According to her, you can enjoy the tastiest local meals while “living like a queen” without mortgaging your house. Her tip for that? Head to Riad Kheirredine and immerse yourself in Morocco’s luxurious lifestyle.
Get a taste of Morocco with the expert Lucie Josma, @missjetsetter
If you haven’t had enough with the Azores or if you’d like to add a pinch of Asia to the volcanic archipelago mix, you might add one of the 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia to the mix. Bali remains the hottest spot for tourist for its accessibility by plane, yet experts rather urge travelers to visit Raja Ampat. Meagen Collins, co-founder of Food Fun Travel, found an accommodation on one of the island’s beaches with all meals included for less than $30 USD.
Raja Ampat is particularly enjoyed by divers for its crystal-clear waters. Photographer and editor of Sher She Goes Sher exhorts everyone to roll up their sleeves to access this hard-to-reach piece of Paradise and guarantees a stunning experience there. Fish-feeding, snorkeling, hiking: what is there not to like? She recommends heading to “Pianemo for a view out over islands that create the shape of a star”.
Somebody said Dragon?
Hikers on the lookout for a bit of physical exercise through the forest can also follow Michael Travers on top of Wayag Bay’s highest peak. The head of marketing and communications at SeaTrek Sailing Adventures reckons that the island might be the most beautiful place Indonesia has to offer.
For another kind of phenomenal experience, check out Komodo Island and its dragons. Who said dragons didn’t exist? The national park of the island is the only home of these dangerous creatures, along with the island of Flores close by. But you’d be mistaken if you believed that the reptiles are the only interest of the island: founder of Ultimate Indonesia Yachts Eddie Widnall’s tip for you is to sleep on a boat where majestic dolphins rest at night.
Explore Bali in GoPro with the extreme sport and travel expert Chris Rogers. Bodhi from Point Break is so overrated… Ok I didn’t mean that.
Probably one of the sexiest countries of the American continent, Mexico also has the potential for becoming a backpacker’s lover: the Indie Traveller consider it fairly simple to live on a $25 daily budget there. Avoid the pricey Cancun and head to the wallet-friendly Mazatlan.
The beach town is Holly Johnson’s top choice. The founder of Club Thrifty loves it both for its affordable prices and authentic culture. But she also suggests the shrimp capital to all food-lovers, whether you’re on a budget or want to try a high-quality dinner for fair prices.
Capital of Culture
Mérida, the safest place in Mexico, is also definitely worth a detour. Among Lonely Planet’s Top 10 cities, the American Capital of Culture 2017 stands as a serious rival to Cancun. The White City’s old city center is a must-see for the Historic Plaza Mayor, its many museums and live music representations. And while you’re in Yucatan, take the time to head to Izamal and take a calesa that will show you around the artisan shops.*How about a walk in la pampa?*
Few countries are as cheap as Cambodia to visit, even by South-East Asian standards. Hospitality in the country is perhaps even more enjoyable than the ancients ruins of Angkor, remnants of the Khmer civilization. The experts of Touropia have made it their best place to visit in the region.
What is perhaps less well-known from the public is the country’s efforts toward a sustainable way of life. Michaela Guzy from Oh The People You Meet praises the work of socially-aware companies building schools for the community, providing health care and privileging a respectful approach to local tourism.
I wanna run away...
Stuart and Samantha, the Aussie bloggers behind Travelfish, also recommend alternative destinations to run away from the crowd while enjoying fantastic sights and advise Kompong Thom. The two-street village of Chi Phat, ideally located between a mountain and a river, is also on their list of chill places to visit.
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Top 10 Places to Visit (not mainstream)
11. Grüner See, Austria
If you go to the Green Lake in the winter, you’ll see nothing but an ordinary lake in a park - although its emerald-green water is a wonder. However, once the snow from the mountain melts, the lake grows, submerges the park and becomes the perfect playground for scuba-divers.
12. The Haiku Stairs, Hawaii
The “Stairway to Heaven” is made of no less than 3.922 steps. If you're brave enough to ignore the “No trespassing” sign, undertake the climb and actually reach the top, you would treat yourself with a pretty nice view over the island.
13. The “Crooked Forest” - Poland
Around 400 pine trees compose this strange-looking forest, each of them growing at a 90° angle at its base. Although there are some theories, no one really knows the secret of this mystery.
14. Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve, China
This landscape is one of the closest things to Avatar’s Hallelujah Mountains that you’ll ever find. The towering rock columns surrounded by white clouds are sure to take your breath away.
15. The “Door to Hell”, Turkmenistan
This crater has been burning since 1971, when Soviet geologists drilled too deep during their search for oil. It turned out the crater was in fact filled with gas. In order to prevent it to spread to nearby area, the engineers set it on fire - it’s been burning ever since.
16. Las Salinas de Torrevieja, Spain
Head towards the south of Spain to these two salty lakes. An algae releases a red pigment that gives the water an extraordinary pinky color. Cherry on the cake? You're allowed to swim inside - don’t forget the camera.
17. Fly Geyser, USA
The multi-coloured mount looks heaven-like, both because of its continuously erupting water and rainbow colours.
18. Lencois Maranhenses Sand Dunes, Brazil
Visit the North of Brazil after the rainy season - not only are the dunes particularly beautiful, but the temperature is much lower and the valley is filled with water, making the landscape unique.
19. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
The world’s largest salt flat formed where prehistoric lakes used to be gets covered with a thin layer of water during the wet season, allowing visitors to admire a perfect reflection of the sky.
20. Namaqualand, Namibia and South Africa
In early spring - a period known as the Namaqualand daisy season - this arid region is blooming with orange and white daisies, along with hundreds of other flowers. This is one of the most surreal landscapes you’ll ever witness.
Top 10 Travel Experiences Recommended by Experts
1. Walking on the Great Wall of China
I’m starting with this one because I have done it not long ago and I can definitely recommend it! The wall is quite a sight. A friend of mine recently ran his first marathon there: part of the race taking place on the Great Wall. I wasn't as daring, but even if you settle for a chill walk, it's worth it. I've been there both at the end of the summer and the end of the winter, when it was covered with snow: both times, the sight was amazing.
It is one of the most popular places to visit in China (if not the most popular), so you can expect quite a few people there. One way to avoid the crowd is to go there early in the morning. But the real trick is to pick which section of the Wall to visit: Badaling and Mutianyu are the busiest because they are the most accessible and closest to Beijing. Head to Jinshanling or Zhuangdaokou instead.
2. Taking a gondola ride in Venice, Italy
Venice is also one of the most beautiful places to go to in Europe. We've all heard about the city, but being there is a whole new experience. If you're looking for a romantic getaway for the weekend, consider Venice, the city of love - I know Paris is supposed to be the one, but… meh.
The locals are getting increasingly angry at the tourist masses that come to the city, so be extremely respectful when you're there. To avoid the crowds yourself, visit the city by night: illuminated, the *Ponte di Rialto* is simply breathtaking. And you know this cliché about how delicious Italian pizzas are? Well, it's true.
3. Looking down the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA
I've also been there and contemplated the horizon, trying to see where the canyon ended. And I failed miserably. I had the same feeling as when I look at the ocean: the feeling that it never ends. Actually, I want to do an entire road trip on the iconic Route 66 (I know how cliché it sounds, don't judge me please), and finish the journey in the Grand Canyon again. You know why? I’ve heard that there is a board that reads “One minute. Don’t read. Don’t talk. No photos. Just look… and see”. But I couldn't find it!
If you're a history buff, you will love the myth about the Grand Canyon. A Hualapai Indian legend says that the canyon was created by one of their heroes, Pack-i-tha-a-wi. After a big flood, he struck the ground with his knife and moved it further until the canyon was formed and the water flew out into the Sea of the Sunset. The next day, when the sun shone, the ground had solidified and turned into what we today call the Great Canyon. Now you understand why it's among my top places to visit once in your life!
4. Swimming with dolphins in Cuba
I haven't done that one just yet. To be honest, it's one of my childhood dreams. Ever since I watched Flipper & Lopaka, I’ve been dying to try this. A friend of mine did it a couple of years ago and she said it was amazing: they can actually carry you out of the water on their nose (which is actually called a rostrum by the way). You can swim with dolphins in other places but Cuba is really special I think.
The country is also known for this kind of tourism and you can try it at various different places across the country - and hey, you might even get there on a Chevy Impala from the 60’s. Plus, it's renown for ecotourism, if you care about that (and you should).
5. Admiring an Aurora borealis in Iceland
I used to be a huge fantastic novels reader - among those were The Golden Compass (they have also made a crappy movie out of it). In the book, auroras are described as something like a bridge to another world. The child inside me still believes that if there is a such a passage somewhere, the auroras are the key to it. But even if you didn’t believe in magic, you would still want to see this natural phenomenon with your own eyes, just for the beauty of it.
Basically, an aurora happens when particles from the Earth’s atmosphere collide with Sun particles. They look as though a colorful veil of light was being deployed over the Earth, and it is just marvelous. Iceland is one of the most popular destinations to admire what's also known as Northern Lights. The country is a famous stopover from people traveling between Europe and the US: consider a connection of several days there.
6. Dancing in the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I consider this to be nothing less than the biggest party in South America, with spectacular costumes and outstanding music. Over 200 samba school parade the streets, each promoting their unique style. If you have the chance to go to Rio in February, do it! And before leaving Brazil and its sandy beaches, I’ll go around the Amazon Forest. As long as it’s still there, that is….
One word of caution though: thieves during the carnival have been on the rise for the past few years - mind your pockets. Don’t let it ruin the experience, but be careful. Knowing how to protect your identity could help you.
7. Getting lost in the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt
Obviously, as a nerd from France, I’ve read all the Asterix comics. The most famous one is perhaps the one that takes place in Egypt - they made a genius movie based on it. At some point, the valiant Gauls gets stuck inside a pyramid - and that’s completely credible. It's a real labyrinth in there! When you think about how long ago it was built, it's just mind-blowing.
Plus, I love the Egyptian mythology - did you know that most pyramids were build on the western side of the river Nile, so that the divine pharaoh’s soul would join with the sun during its descent? It’s not for nothing that the Great Pyramid of Giza is one of the Seven Wonders: it’s the largest and only one that survived until the modern times. But because this is place with such a historic background doesn’t mean I won’t take that noseless-Sphinx selfie. Update from April 2018: done that!
8. Contemplate the Taj Mahal in India
The edifice was built by Shah Jahan in honor of his late wife - his favorite one at least. But not only is the Taj Mahal a wonder in itself - its backstory is marked by a couple of interesting legends as well. The most debated one states that Shah Jahan, obsessed with symmetry as he was, had initially planned to build a replica of the Taj Mahal in black marble on the other side of the Yamuna river. But that was before his son overthrew him.
The palace is huge and attracts tons of tourists who, like me apparently, think it's one of the must-see places on earth. And while you're at it, try the delicious and incredibly spicy Indian cuisine. Once you get used to it, there isn't much that you will find spicy in the future.
9. Going on a safari in Tanzania
I’ve always considered Africa as home of a deeply diverse wildlife. Tanzania alone is a paradise for those who want to observe animals in their natural environment. Tarangire National Park lets you observe the famous animals of the savanna. Ernest Hemingway is said to have described the Lake Manyara as the “loveliest in Africa”. And why not complete the trip with the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest inactive and intact volcanic caldera?
That's probably one of my biggest regrets about my recent trips: I was in Tanzania and didn't have the time to do a safari. I went on a hike on Mount Kilimanjaro instead. Alright, I'll start complaining now. But I'll be back.
10. Scuba-dive on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia
My uncle taught me the basics of scuba-diving in Marseille, France. Despite having watched The World of Nemo on multiple occasions, I would not have imagine there was an actual whole other world down under. And from the pictures I’ve seen and documentaries I’ve watched, it’s nothing compared to the Great Barrier Reef. And should you not be too much into scuba-diving, you can always observe this natural wonder thanks to the Google Underwater Street View!
Final Words on the Best Places to Visit in Your Life
Obviously, there are plenty of other places to visit once in a lifetime where I want to go. I had to shorten this list quite a bit.
In truth, all places have the potential to make it to your list of favorite destinations, even those closest to home. Just because most people have a great time somewhere doesn't mean you will; and you may enjoy an unpopular destination more than any of the places on this list!
Keep an open mind, give every trip a chance to be awesome, and look for what will make it special to YOU!