Top 10 Travel Destinations for 2016
by Flight Centre staff.
If you're already planning escapes for the upcoming year, you may want to look further than the usual regional resorts to some of the world's most unique and inspiring destinations. Whether it's swimming in hot springs in freezing Iceland or sipping the best mojito of your life in buzzing Havana, here are our top ten travel destinations for 2016.
With Cathay Pacific launching a non-stop service to Madrid four times a week this coming June, experiencing la vida española is about to get considerably easier for Hong Kong travellers.
A country of contrasts, from the ever-popular beaches of the Costa del Sol to the bustling and vibrant capital of Madrid; from rural Catalonian villages nestled high in the Pyrenees mountains to Barcelona's iconic Gaudi architecture – a visit to Spain guarantees variety, culture and truly fabulous food.
Read more about Spain.
Lush forests, snow-capped mountains, rolling hills, crystal-clear lakes, bubbling volcanoes, spectacular glaciers… it's no wonder that New Zealand's natural beauty proved so magical that it became the mythical Middle Earth setting for Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings film trilogy.
There's more to New Zealand than acres of wilderness – although exploring its awe-inspiring scenery via one of the famous nine "Great Walks" is definitely a good start. Adrenaline junkies should take advantage of the stellar surfs and heart-thumping bungee jumping and sky diving opportunities on offer, foodies will love the fresh seafood and world-class wine – and everyone should take time to get to know more about the fascinating Maori culture that makes life Down Under quite so distinctive. With the NZ dollar currently fairly weak, this is the ideal time to visit to get more bang for your buck.
Read more about New Zealand.
Brazil & South America
Rio de Janeiro is blessed with a stunning natural setting, along with some of the world's finest beaches, all beneath the benevolent gaze of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue that towers over this spectacular city. Now gearing up to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in August and September, this is the perfect time to head to Brazil and experience the world's biggest celebration in the world's best party city.
Not a sports fan? From Brazil and beyond, the continent has plenty more to excite even the most jaded traveller; think Amazonian rainforests teeming with wildlife, the mysterious ruins of Macchu Pichu, Easter Island's imposing statues, the Galapogos' unique natural diversity, La Paz's head-spinning altitude and Cusco's sleepy colonial cobbles… South America offers endless variety and adventure.
Taking over from Thailand and Bali as the current South Asian destination du jour, Sri Lanka is a true tropical paradise. From pristine white beaches, lush tea plantations and ancient temples to elephant sanctuaries, jungle safaris and stellar scuba diving, there's countless reasons why this island is topping every discerning traveller's bucket list.
Its capital Colombo is a glorious melting pot of times and traditions, where beautiful colonial architecture and a century-old railway sit alongside chic new boutiques and restaurants. Adventure junkies will lap up the hiking, surfing and white-water rafting opportunities, whilst nature-lovers shouldn't miss a trip to the wonderful Udawalawe National Park. Remember to bring your appetite too; Sri Lanka's fiery cuisine is influenced by Indian cooking, whilst still boasting plenty of exotic flavours of its own.
Read more about Sri Lanka.
From its otherworldly black sand beaches to its abundant natural hot springs and geysers, Iceland is a country defined by volcanic activity, steadily boiling away just below the ground of this charmingly eccentric island nation.
A walkable capital city with just the right amount of quirk, Reykjavik runs entirely on geothermal power, and, in keeping with its no-holds-barred Viking heritage, boasts a lively drinking and dining scene. Further afield, adrenaline junkies can get their fix snowboarding, ice climbing and snowmobiling over glaciers, before unwinding from the day's excesses with a soak in the 38°C waters of Mother Nature's own spa – The Blue Lagoon.
A world-class hiking and climbing destination set against the towering backdrop of jagged Himalayan peaks, a visit to Bhutan is a spiritual retreat from modern life that offers unparalleled peace and tranquillity in a country steeped in Buddhism.
Capital city Thimphu is liberally sprinkled with significant monuments – the fortified Tashichho Dzong houses a beautiful gold-roofed monastery, while The Memorial Chorten, with its iconic gilt spire, pays homage to Bhutan's royal heritage. Visit in early October for the spectacular Thimphu Tsechu, a lively three-day festival of dance, food and music commemorating the saint who first introduced Buddhism to this devout country.
A hedonist's paradise, Cuba boasts a tropical climate, stunning white sandy beaches and, of course, the finest cigars and rum you'll find anywhere in the world.
Havana's UNESCO-protected Old Town could have come straight from a movie set; 1950's US-made cars cruise the streets as dance clubs blast salsa music. The city's 16th century Spanish colonial architecture makes for fascinating exploration, whilst the city also boasts some fine museums, including the Museum of the Revolution, which offers visitors an insight into the country's often-turbulent history. Cuba's relations with neighbouring USA are finally beginning to thaw after many years of embargo, so visit sooner rather than later to enjoy this Caribbean island while it's still relatively undeveloped.
Read more about Cuba.
It might require a bit more work to reach than most Asian destinations – there are still no direct flights in – but those that do make the effort to travel to Laos are richly rewarded.
Unspoilt rainforests teeming with rare wildlife, ancient temples scattered liberally throughout UNESCO World Heritage Site Luang Prabang, laidback beaches offering incredible views of the Mekong River, unforgettable cuisine that blends the best of Vietnamese, Thai and French influences – Laos has the lot, and all topped with friendly locals who can't wait to welcome you to their little slice of paradise. Life in Laos is firmly in the slow lane… but that's all the better for savouring your time there.
Read more about Laos.
Winter is coming… and thanks to Game of Thrones, the stream of Croatia-bound tourists keep coming too! The walled city of Dubrovnik was the setting for much of the action in the cult TV show – and once you've wandered around its incredible Old Town, where medieval forts encircle awe-inspiring Gothic and Baroque buildings, you'll understand why so many have fallen in love with the place.
If blissed-out beaches and stunning scenery are more your bag, Croatia has those in spades too; the azure lakes and cascading waterfalls of the Plitvice Lakes are a must-see whilst the coastline resorts of Istria offer a dose of sunny Adriatic charm. Head to Croatia in summer to catch its action-packed festival season: the long-running Dubrovnik Summer Festival features theatre, dance and music performances, whilst Dimensions, Hideout and Croatia Rocks will have you dancing 'til the sun goes down.
K-Pop, K-Beauty, K-Food, K-Fashion – there's no doubt that the trend for all things Korean has gone global… and with it, South Korea as a destination in itself. The contrast between modern cosmopolitan life and ancient tradition is what makes South Korea so enchanting, where glitzy shopping districts and bustling night markets rub shoulders with tranquil Buddhist temples and majestic historical palaces.
Natural beauty also abounds, with sleepy fishing villages, vast national parks and beautiful secluded islands to explore – including the ever-popular beaches of Jeju, known as "The Island of the Gods". Whether it's learning more about the country's history at the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea, enjoying a relaxing soak in an open-air hot spring or snacking on street food delicacies into the midnight hours, South Korea truly does have something for everyone.
Read more about South Korea.