There are so many wonderful places in the world to travel to at the moment. Among those we visited this past year these are each exceptional in that they possess a wide range of options for discerning travelers.
The unique opportunities these destinations present for 2019 occur in many ways. Sometimes we have found our way to a new country because they widened their visa policies or maybe a surge in infrastructure has increased access to hotels, transportation and services and sometimes a place is an old favorite we have been to over and over again because it just keeps staying true to the things that make it exceptional.
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
When it comes to a country and city on a dedicated path of development the UAE and its capital city Abu Dhabi are leading the way. This forward looking city offers a unique range of attractions: from cultural heritage with renovated forts and souks, to the ultra-modern skyscrapers, luxury hotels and desert resorts nearby. There are loads of outdoor activites to enjoy in the nearly endless sunny days. A walk or run along the gulf side Corniche, the Al Hudayriat cycling track and paddle boarding or kayaking the mangroves are just the beginning. Check out the luxury hotels on Al Maryah and Saddiyat Island as well as the new Louvre Museum.
This city is sometimes maligned for its traffic problems, but the truth is it is a paradise of affordable, world class hotels, spas, shopping centers and restaurants. The city offers culture both old and new, from dramatic skyscrapers to ancient temples. The urban sprawl feels looming and inviting all at once. The people are friendly, the city functions well and the value for your expenses is quite remarkable.
Malaysia possesses incredible beaches, tropical acres and stability along with a great quality of life. Any of its cities or resort areas are the makings of a great trip, but Langkawi is the stuff of legend. This island has intimate bays and beaches that allow you to feel like the whole island is just made for you. Two hotels we visited, the St. Regis and the Ritz Carlton are distinguished properties among others in their respective brands worldwide. The views of the sunsets are unforgettable, spa treatments are accessible, especially in a resort setting and the island provides opportunities to embrace water sports, see how local Malaysian life carries on and to experience the melting pot of various cultures that have made their homes here.
Phu Quoc, Vietnam
The best tropical island you’ve never hear of rises from emerald colored waters closer to Thailand than to its Vietnamese mainland. This special place is really just emerging into the international tourism market and it has all of the charming features we’ve experienced of tourism and hospitality on the mainland. We stayed at arguable the best property on the island, the JW Marriott. This escape within an escape has a special layout, the hotel is built on the concept of a fictional university campus, with colonial French and English elements. The beachfront, watersports and exceptional attitudes of hospitality make it an unmissable destination. Plus as long as you have tickets to and from the island, you don’t need a visa to visit!
As one of India’s megacities Bangalore is a cross between the historic wealth of ancient rulers and a hub for the modern tech industry. This allows for some incredible hotels to enjoy and impressive sightseeing to take in. The Ritz Carlton is a bastion of pampering and exclusivity and the new Conrad hotel is creating a lot of buzz as Hilton gets bolder in India. There are places of high society like golf clubs, shopping centers and ancient castles as well as curious technology and local goods street markets to indulge in.
The gateway to so much of Thailand’s beauty should not be overlooked. We are constantly amazed by the quality of hotels in Bangkok, how easy the crowded city is to navigate and the many smiles that are so indicative of the happy culture here. At a time when so many tourists are overcrowding the beaches and islands, it is worth considering to spend some quality time in the capital too. Here Four Seasons, Waldorf Astoria, Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental and St. Regis are consistently some of the best rates and standards we have found around the world. The temples, markets and malls are always a favorite to re-explore for us too.
The tropical shores of China’s most revered vacation spot continues to fill up with scores of golf courses, luxury hotels of every conceivable brand and the best in hospitality. The island of Hainan shows that China offers so much more than tourists expect of it and even when we have visited China and Sanya many times, there is always more development here that is just incredible. The market is demanding when it comes to travel luxuries and amenities, but the prices are very good for outsiders, that’s why Sanya is so attractive, some of the top vacation standards in the world at quite a bargain.
The Southwest corner of Europe may be off the radar for some but it is the continent’s best kept secret. Roman ruins, castles, monasteries, historic hotels, amazing beaches and fields filled with grapes, wheat and olives, it is a Mediterranean vacation at a fraction of the cost and rivaling the beauty of Spain, France, Italy and Croatia. Portugal is friendly, diverse and historic, the cultural emphasis on art and music is powerful and don’t forget they’re historically some of the best explorers and inventors.
Not just a place for business and banks, Panama has really renovated its historic quarter to a scenic status. Throw in the nearby canal and many excellent hotels, restaurants and nightlife and it is easy to see why this super well connected city rivals the skyline and culture of Miami, to which it bears a striking resemblance. The Waldorf Astoria here is one of the most value for service properties in the entire chain and if you are feeling adventurous, a car rental and two hours North of the city sits the JW Marriott Panama, a quiet resort on the Pacific beach.
It is no mistake why this is called “The Heart of Africa.” Rwanda is a modern success story for safe travel and sustainable tourism in Africa. The local markets in Kigali will show you the country’s rich tropical harvests and excursions into the further wilds will show you verdant jungles, active volcanoes and abundant wildlife. The country is conscious of keeping its treasures pristine as forward thinking laws are applied: plastic bags are outlawed in the country. This is a great crossroads to see Africa as it was and as it can be.