Best Places to Travel in 2014
On Nicaragua’s Little Corn Island, the fresh lobster is cheap; the hammocks plentiful; and the pace slow. Factor in a new hotel and spa with 16 oceanfront cabanas, and vacationing here is more blissful than ever.
Related: Best Places to Travel in 2015
It’s just one of the places that will appeal to travelers seeking what’s new and notable in 2014. They remind us that there are still discoveries to be made, even in seemingly familiar destinations—and that with travel, too, timing is everything.
Consider Iceland, where NASA expects the northern lights to reach the vibrant peak of an 11-year solar cycle in December 2014. For prime views, book a stay at the Ion Hotel, where the bar has dimmable lights and wraparound windows, or a small-group tour with storm chaser George Kourounis that includes volcano hikes and glacier treks.
Culture seekers, meanwhile, will be drawn to Cape Town, which has more than 450 events in the works as part of its World Design Capital designation in 2014, along with hip boutiques and forward-thinking restaurants. StumbleUpon revealed that Cape Town is one of the top 10 destinations generating interest among its community of 30 million users.
Related: Best Vacation Spots
Palermo, Sicily, is another destination capturing the collective imagination. TripAdvisor has noticed a recent uptick in searches and positive feedback—and we’ve noticed compelling reasons to visit, like a surprisingly sophisticated wine scene and affordable independent hotels.
Of course, you don’t need to cross international borders to find a worthy vacation spot for the New Year. Enterprising chefs have congregated right in Nashville, where you can hop from Germantown’s Rolf and Daughters to Josephine, a new farm-to-table spot in the emerging 12South neighborhood.
Find out the rest of our picks for the best places to travel in 2014—and share your to-visit list in the comments below.
Cape Town, South Africa
There’s never been a better time to visit Cape Town thanks to a proliferation of edgy boutiques, independent galleries, and forward-thinking restaurants like Test Kitchen by Neighbourgoods Market, where biltong (cured meat) is topped with plum-cured foie gras. And the buzz is spreading: StumbleUpon noticed that Cape Town is one of the top 10 destinations generating interest among its community of 30 million users. The city has been designed the World Design Capital for 2014, with more than 450 events in the works. It’s also an opportunity to pay tribute to the late Nelson Mandela with a visit to Robben Island, where he spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.
New hotels beckon travelers to two up-and-coming destinations. The beach town of Jose Ignacio attracts a high-wattage crowd that has included Shakira and Jason Wu, yet “the vibe here is not so precious: everyone is so low-key and relaxed,” says insider Carrie Vik, who just opened her third hotel in the area: the 11-bungalow Bahia Vik, tucked among the dunes of Mansa Beach. “I love to horseback ride along the sand, or bicycle up to Laguna Garzon and watch the kite surfers, she adds.” Return in time to catch the spectacular sunset over caipiroskas at La Huella, Playa Brava’s iconic seaside restaurant. To the west, the boutique wineries and farm-to-table dining have made the Carmelo region a go-to weekend getaway for stylish Argentines. Casa Chic raises the cool quotient with its 20 rooms set on 250 acres of untouched forest and a showstopping pool overlooking the Río de la Plata. —Shane Mitchell, Paola Singer
Affordable, rich in culture and history, and filled with emerging creative energy. Stay at the refurbished Hotel Bristol. (Coming in 2016: a Raffles hotel.) Don’t miss the expanded contemporary art gallery at the National Museum and the new Museum of the History of the Polish Jews.
The proximity of the Ion Hotel, designed by California-based studio Minarc, to Thingvellir National Park means you can fish on Iceland’s largest natural lake—then let the hotel’s chef cook your catch. The bar has dimmable lights and wraparound windows for aurora borealis viewing—and 2014 promises to be spectacular. According to NASA, the Northern Lights will reach the peak of an 11-year solar cycle in December 2014. Storm chaser George Kourounis will lead travelers on an eight-day Kensington Tours itinerary that includes volcano hikes, glacier treks, and zodiac safaris. —Lindsey Olander
Pangulasian Island, Philippines
In the Palawan archipelago, an hour’s flight from Manila, the tiny private island of Pangulasian is home to the newest and most luxurious entry in the respected El Nido Resorts collection. Forty-two airy, thatched-roof villas are just steps from a ribbon of soft white sand. Behind you lies a thrumming canopy of green. And before you is limpid blue Bacuit Bay, where outriggers ply the glasslike waters. The bay is part of a UNESCO biosphere reserve; swim just 20 yards out and you’ll be floating with turtles and parrot fish above a pristine coral reef. Or kayak to one of several nearby islands and claim your own sun-drenched empty shore. Back at the resort, fresh coconuts await (watch staffers climb 30-foot trees to retrieve them) along with traditional hilot massages at the spa, for all of $35 an hour. Pangulasian was spared by recent Typhoon Haiyan, and the country could use your tourist dollars more than ever. —Peter Jon Lindberg
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
All eyes are on the host of this year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, where a citywide rejuvenation effort has infused Rio’s neighborhoods with newfound energy. Once-derelict Lapa, for instance, now reverberates far into the night with samba’s percussive beat at venues like Carioca da Gema. And the artsy district of Botafogo—with views of Sugarloaf Mountain—has also become a gastronomic hub. “My go-to place for modern Brazilian cuisine is Iraja Gastro, run by chef Pedro de Artagao; get the pirarucu fish with sautéed banana,” says furniture designer Sergio Rodrigues, whose studio is found in Botafogo. —Colin Barraclough
Little Corn Island, Nicaragua
The fresh lobster is cheap; the hammocks, plentiful; the pace, blissfully slow. This snack-bite-size island (it’s just over one square mile) located 56 miles off Nicaragua’s coast is easily walkable or bikeable by trail, making it a breeze to get to snorkeling beaches such as Cocal. The new Yemaya Island Hideaway & Spa offers 16 ocean-facing cabanas sandwiched between two stretches of sand, and a.m. yoga sessions...if you’re up. —Jason Harper
According to Jonny Bealby of tour operator Wild Frontiers, the new houseboat Lotus brings an added level of comfort to the backwaters of Malabar in northern Kerala—and not just because of the air-conditioning. The two guest rooms have handmade teak furniture and private verandas for your journey. If you prefer to explore by car, head five hours south from Kochi to Kovalem, a fisherman’s beach fringed with coconut groves. Or, head east to the mountainous area of Munnar, studded with tea plantations, including Kolukkumalai Tea Estate, one of the world’s highest. Wherever you roam, you can stretch your dollars farther as the rupee has fallen in value.
Miami feels more and more like a world-class city, thanks to a revitalized urban core, neighborhoods with distinct personalities, and a new clutch of innovative restaurants and hotels. The Metropolitan by Como debuts in January 2014, but for now, resident restaurateur Jose Mendin, founder of the city’s PubBelly group of eateries, is loyal to the SLS and The Standard. “A lot of locals have memberships at The Standard,” he says. “We use the spa and hang out at the pool.” After hours, you’re likely to find him at Radio. “It started as a popup, and now it’s becoming one of the city’s hottest bars,” he says. For a late-night snack, Mendin heads to La Sandwicherie. “They’re famous for the Italian dressing that they give you with your sandwich—chefs come here to scarf down baguettes at 2am.” For more insider tips, read T+L’s Miami Decoder. —Heidi Mitchell
Meads Bay, Anguilla
Facing west, 1 1/2-mile-long Meads Bay is ringed by some of the island’s best casual restaurants. Simply brush the sand from your bare feet before entering Straw Hat to order the grilled local crawfish with sweet plantains. On a panoramic bluff above the bay, Malliouhana is getting a glamorous top-to-bottom makeover from Auberge Resorts, with a new sunset bar, tiered pool, and intimate spa; the 55-room classic reopens this spring. We’ll see if it lures stars away from the nearby Viceroy, a high-profile hit with its Kelly Wearstler–designed rooms. —Shane Mitchell
Up-and-Coming Cruise Port: Sochi
Excursion: Long before this city was chosen to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, the region was a favorite retreat of Joseph Stalin. Tour the dictator’s austere 1937 dacha, still filled with his personal possessions. The day ends in the 30-acre subtropical Dendrary Botanical Garden (mind the roaming ostriches!).
Voyage: Celebrity Constellation, to and from Istanbul. October 14; 11 nights from $2,499. —Jane Wooldridge
Playa Carrizalillo, Puerto Escondido, Mexico
Pro riders arrive in this town along the Oaxacan coast and make a beeline for Playa Zicatela, a.k.a. the Mexican Pipeline. But Playa Carrizalillo, a quiet cove accessible via a 150-step stairway, has waters gentle enough for the rest of us; take a dip, snorkel, then down oysters from one of the handful of beach shacks. In recent years, Puerto (as the locals call it) has been upping its hip factor: case in point, the just-opened Hotel Escondido, a 16-room, oceanfront oasis from the cult-favorite Grupo Habita brand. —Jeff Spurrier
Up-and-Coming Cruise Port: Rangoon, Burma
Excursion: This two-day Temples of Burma jaunt is worth the quick flight to Pagan: you’ll see a few of the 2,000 pagodas and temples from a traditional horse cart, with stops at a lacquerware workshop. Includes an overnight stay in a local hotel.
Voyage: Seabourn Odyssey, to and from Singapore. November 9; 14 nights from $6,999. —Jane Wooldridge
While Sicily’s allure is undeniable, its capital is less universally loved. But TripAdvisor—noticing an uptick in searches and positive feedback—has recognized Palermo as a European destination on the rise in 2014. Here are five compelling reasons to visit. 1) Wine tasting is surprisingly sophisticated. Try Vinoveritas (39-091/609-0653) for some 3,000 Italian and international pours and a tasty aperitivo spread. 2) You’ll find some of Italy’s best street food at joyfully chaotic markets Ballarò, Il Capo, and the legendary Vucciria. 3) Its western suburb of Mondello is one of Sicily’s most idyllic seaside villages and the location of Alle Terrazze, perhaps the area’s best seafood restaurant. 4) Low-key, independent hotels are the rule, not the exception. Our favorite, BB22, makes a fine art of understated intimacy, with its glassed-in terrace and seven high-ceilinged rooms. 5) There’s art worth seeing that’s not 500-plus years old. At GAM, 19th- and 20th-century Italian masters are mixed with high-profile living artists. And dealer Francesco Pantaleone—formerly of Gagosian in New York—is bringing international bona fides to the local scene. —Maria Shollenbarger
California Wine Country
Up-and-Coming Cruise Port: San Francisco
Excursion: Take a three-hour ride through Napa Valley on a restored 1915 train—passing wineries such as Far Niente (established in 1885), Robert Mondavi, and Opus One. Bonus: thanks to a conductor turned designated driver, feel free to enjoy the tasting bar, replete with some 50 local bottles at any given time.
Voyage: Azamara Quest, from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. February 10; eight nights from $1,499. —Jane Wooldridge
Tetiaroa, French Polynesia
Just 30 miles northeast of Tahiti, the atoll of Tetiaroa has 12 motus (islets) so gorgeous they were once a retreat for Polynesian royalty. And then came Hollywood: Marlon Brando filmed Mutiny on the Bounty there in the 1960’s, fell in love, and bought every last bit of sand. Privacy is still the priority on 193-acre Onetahi, one of those pristine motus, which is now the setting for the Brando resort (all-inclusive; three-night minimum), slated to open July 1. In keeping with the actor’s wishes, the 35-villa property will also focus on conservation, with an EcoStation, sustainable energy systems, and an organic orchard. Charter a sailboat to explore the three-mile-wide lagoon—then strand yourselves for a few hours on one of the 11 uninhabited islets. —Shane Mitchell
Santa Marta, Colombia
Up-and-Coming Cruise Port: Santa Marta, Colombia
Excursion: In Colombia’s oldest city, you’ll see artifacts of the Kogi and Arhuaco peoples in the Gold Museum—and tour the final home of 19th-century liberator Simón Bolívar.
Voyage: Oceania’s Regatta, from Miami to Los Angeles. December 5; 15 nights from $3,499. —Jane Wooldridge
Up-and-Coming Cruise Port: Lombok, Indonesia
Excursion: Visit villages on this artsy island to see locals dye fabrics using ikat techniques and mold decorative pots, then stop at the Sayang Sayang art market to shop for intricate rattan baskets and wooden boxes inlaid with pearl and filigree panels.
Voyage: Crystal Symphony, from Sydney to Bali. February 16; 12 nights from $4,055. —Jane Wooldridge
Palm Springs, CA
An antidote to Palm Springs’ retro resorts, the Sparrows Hotel, set in a former 1950’s motor lodge, emits a hip-summer-camp vibe, with reclaimed-redwood walls and concrete floors. Consider it an Ace Hotel gone country: all 20 rooms have rancho-rustic furniture and vintage Swiss Army blankets; some come with horse-trough bathtubs. Despite a no-kids policy, youthful diversions abound—including a horseshoe pitch, splashy saltwater pool, and tennis court with old-timey wooden rackets. —David A. Keeps
Finland’s thoughtful aesthetic tradition is influencing Helsinki’s recent wave of innovative thinkers and avant-garde landmarks. In May 2013, Kulttuurisauna, the first public sauna to open in decades, made its debut on the Helsinki waterfront. With a minimized carbon footprint and sturdy tree-trunk columns, the building is a spare, primitive temple to communal bathing. Finland hasn’t received the amount of attention that Denmark and Sweden have for New Nordic Cuisine, yet Helsinki’s chefs and foragers are every bit as active and adventurous. Splurge on the multicourse “journey” with wine pairings and prepare for fresh, seasonal dishes such as cauliflower with Finnish caviar, lamb with beetroot, and organic licorice with white chocolate and black currants at Olo. —Heather Smith MacIsaac
Vinh Hy Bay, Vietnam
You’ll be pleased to meet Amano’i, the first Vietnam property from Amanresorts, which opened in September 2013 60 miles south of Nha Trang. Imagine the scene: it’s just before lunchtime, and you’re returning from the spa, where you were swathed in lavender and sandalwood beside a lotus pond. Walking back to your tile-roofed pavilion, you’ve paused to consider two things: a quick cooling dip, and, well, that view. You wonder if this rugged green-on-granite coastline, with its tiny islets and hidden-cove beaches, was half as mesmerizing before Amano’i arrived to frame it with elegant symmetry. It’s been days since you were truly “indoors”—last night you slept with the windows open. And now your afternoon consists of a few simple choices: Shrimp or squid? Pool or beach? A breeze lifts the brim of your hat, and you close your eyes and smile. —Peter Jon Lindberg
Mokapu Beach, Maui, Hawaii
The property off Mokapu’s dazzling, 4 1/2-mile stretch of golden sand lay shuttered for years: enter the Andaz Maui at Wailea, which has revitalized this 15-acre spot. From the sand garden in the open-air lobby to the whitewashed guest rooms, the design sensibility is modern-luxe Hawaiian beach house. What to do? Along with stand-up paddleboarding, there’s lounging by the four-tiered pool and sharing sushi at the on-site Morimoto Maui. Hanging loose never felt so chic. —Gail Simmons
Long a secret Caribbean refuge for sunseekers and soul-searchers, Dominica has an astonishing purity and variety of landscapes: volcanoes, deep gorges, rivers and waterfalls, and the world’s second-largest hot spring, Boiling Lake. Nearly half of Dominica is rain forest, and about a third is national parkland. For the adventure-inclined, there’s just so much here. Yet for the average Caribbean tourist, remarkably little: no all-inclusives, no Margaritavilles, not even a gift shop at the airport. Small hotels and guesthouses haven’t kept up with nearby St. Lucia and Barbados. Factor in the difficulty of getting here (the island’s airstrip accommodates mostly prop planes, with no nonstop flights from the U.S.), and you see why Dominica has been an outlier, until recently. The island finally has a world-class resort to match its natural assets: Secret Bay, on a promontory between two beaches with cliff-top villas. It’s one of our favorite secret Caribbean hotels. —Peter Jon Lindberg