Off the beaten track: Top ten tourist destinations of 2013

We are always on the lookout for new destinations and new experiences. From beach destinations to cultural hotspots and historical treasures, this is our pick of the destinations to visit in 2013! Visit these countries before the hordes get there!

Ukraine

Ukraine is a country at the crossroads of Eastern and Western Europe with a rich history and architecture. If nothing, the cheap beer and the football should get you there! In terms of value for your money- this is a real steal. Its co-hosting of the Euro 2012 has brought this country under everyone’s travel radar. Ancient castles, gold domed churches, vibrant cultural traditions; this is a country that should be on your list. Visit the historical town of Lviv. Lviv’s sights were spared from the II World War and therefore it has an architectural feast of churches, medieval squares and ornate buildings with influences from the Armenians, Austrians, Greeks and the Hungarians. Kiev the capital with its stunning architecture is the starting point for sombre tours to Chernobyl, the site of the worst nuclear accident. Outside the main towns, head for the Carpathians with beautiful forests, alpine meadows, rivers and lakes, healing mineral springs and pristine walking trails with home stays.

A view of Valaparaiso, Chile. Reuters.

A view of Valaparaiso, Chile. Reuters.

Ghana

Ghana, one of the few countries in Western Africa which is English speaking, is slowly becoming popular with tourists, It is tucked in between Cote D’Ivoire and Togo and has picturesque fishing towns, beaches, imposing colonial forts with dank dungeons, and wildlife parks. It offers the African experience of safaris, beaches and culture in a pocket edition. You can visit the largest manmade lake in the world- Lake Volta or visit Mole National Park to see antelopes, hyenas and warthogs. Ghana has one of the best African bus networks and has relatively inexpensive accommodation. Kumasi, the belt of the Ashanti tribe is known for its woven cloth and gold jewellery.

Chile

Chile is one of the safest and most stable countries of South America. This long and narrow country, hemmed in by mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, offers a diverse variety of sights ranging from the Atcama Desert- the driest desert of the world to snow white salt plains, forests, lakes and active volcanoes. Visit Valparaiso that is popular because of its Bohemian culture, majestic views of its beaches and seaside as well as the poet Pablo Neruda’s home. If you want adventure fly to Easter Island and explore the giant, mysterious Moai statues that were created from volcanic rock hundreds of years ago. Visit Torre del Paine, a biosphere reserve which is thought to be one of the most unspoiled areas on the globe. The Valley of the Moon, formed where the Andes meet the Atacama Desert, is aptly named: its sand and rock formations create a remarkably moonlike landscape.

Madagascar

The world’s fourth largest island is well known for its incredible bio-diversity because of its long isolation from the mainland. More than 90% of its flora and fauna is unique and found nowhere else in the world. With 18 national parks, 50 types of lemurs, and bays and beaches, this is an astonishing destination. Visit Tsingy de Bemaraha, a raised limestone plateau with thin pinnacles and walk through ancient baobab trees in the Avenue of Baobabs on the west coast After many years of political instability, it is heading towards presidential election in May 2013, and democracy. This is a good time to visit this country with French influenced food and culture.

Finnish Lapland

Head to Finnish Lapland to witness the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights. This a region ruled by the elements. Winter lasts here for nearly six months and the magical Arctic Circle passes through this surreal expanse of snow and birch. Rovaniemi is the unofficial capital of Finnish Lapland, 800 km from Helsinki. Visit the Santa Claus Village, 8 kms from Rovaniemi and meet the ‘real’ Santa Claus! Visit a husky farm and for a spot of adventure take a husky safari. Whizz through the barren landscape in a snowmobile or a toboggan or try your hand at ‘ice fishing’. For something different, take a ride on the Sampo Icebreaker ship as it pushes its way through the frozen sea, and take a dip in the freezing waters. The ultimate Finnish experience- soak in a wood fire sauna with a beer in your hand and feel your tensions dissipate!

Slovenia

Slovenia, the pint sized country sandwiched between Italy and Croatia is a stunner. It joined the EU in 1994 and adopted the Euro in 2007- it is today one of the most affordable European countries. Why is Slovenia so special? Slovenia offers a great diversity in terrain over a small distance to cover- the Julian Alps, stunning lakes, phenomenal caves and castles, a little Adriatic coastline thrown in, even a wine growing region, some three thousand- plus churches and monasteries and some stunning architecture. Slovenia is famous for its peculiar karst or limestone landscapes and caves. Visit the capital city, Ljubljana and have your fill of its stunning architecture. Spend a day at the picturesque Lake Bled and have your wish fulfilled by ringing the bell at the Church of Assumption. Maribor, Slovenia’s second largest city with medieval churches, castles and mansions was the European capital of Culture in 2012. Put it on your list!

Japan

Japan had a rough 2011- with the earthquake and tsunami impacting the tourist inflows. 2013 is the year of revival and a great time to visit this country of contrasts- centuries- old temples and castles, the sleek bullet trains, the hi tech cities and spectacular landscapes of pristine beach, verdant forest and misty mountains as well as a slew of onsens or natural hot springs. Head for the Cherry Blossom Festival in March-April when the whole country comes alive in pink! Get a glimpse of old Japan in Kyoto and Nara, visiting the many shrines and temples as well as a peek into the geisha culture. For a sobering experience, visit the Peace Park in Hiroshima and admire the way the country has been re-built. For big city highs spend time in Tokyo – with both traditional areas like Asakusa and the glitzy Shinjuku with giant screens and neon.

Bhutan 

This is truly the last Shangri La with pristine mountains, babbling streams, blue pine forests, precipitous cliffs plunging into deep valleys, maroon robed monks and prayer wheels, fluttering prayer flags and emerald green rice terraces. Bhutan is a visual feast -from the iconic Tiger’s Nest Monastery clinging to the edge of a granite cliff, where legend goes Guru Rimpoche arrived on the back of a flying tigress to the quirky temple of fertility in Punakha, the rice bowl of the country and picturesque Bumthang, touted to be the Switzerland of Bhutan. The winds of change are sweeping over Bhutan with a progressive monarch. Though its follows a tightly controlled tourism policy of ‘high value, low volume’, the time to really visit it may be now.

South Korea 

Home of Gangnam style, South Korea caters to practically every type of tourist-adventure seekers, sports buffs, arts and culture lovers, sightseers, and others. In 2012 South Korea will host the World Rowing championships. You can try adventurous activities like paragliding, white-water rafting, scuba diving, deep-sea fishing or take a trip to the Buddhist shrines of the country and experience its rich culture. Visit the ancient city of Gyeongju, with temples, pagodas and royal tombs. Head to the countryside which is full of rice paddies, mountainsides and unspoilt fishing villages. Visit the volcanic landscape of Jeju Island, a semi- tropical island south of the mainland. White sandy beaches, spectacular scuba diving and an extinct volcano crater makes this a popular destination. Besides the sights, Korean food is a great draw with beef, pork and sea food dishes as well as vegetable kimchi.

Taiwan

Taiwan is a visually stunning country which has spectacular scenery of gorges, coasts and beaches. For the traveller on a moderate budget, Taipei, the capital city offers a perfect subway system, great English language bookshops, the tallest building in the world (Taipei 101) and a bustling Shilin night market. Wherever you are, you are within shouting distance of a hot spring. Visit the Taroko National Park with hiking trails, and scenic roads with spectacular views of mountains, temples and the famous Taroko Gorge. For a relaxing time spend a couple of days at the Sun Moon Lake surrounded by villages, walking trails and awe-inspiring views. Why visit it now? It is one of the best countries of the world for biking and has just been connected completely by a network of cycle trails throughout the island.

The author is a Japanese language specialist and travel writer based in Chennai


Published Date: Mar 08, 2013 05:44 pm | Updated Date: Mar 08, 2013 05:45 pm


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