TOURS OF BEAUTY
If you’re after bragging rights, you won’t want to miss these amazing places
1 SRI LANKA
Stunning scenery, great surf beaches, lush tea plantations, extraordinary wildlife and culture – Sri Lanka ticks all the boxes. And then there’s the vibe that “perfectly combines the dramatic India and the laid-back Bali attitude,” according to Asia travel specialists GetAboutAsia.
New direct flights from Melbourne make it easier than ever for Aussies to get there, and 2018 will see many new tours and resorts. The Galle Face Hotel, Sri Lanka’s answer to Singapore’s Raffles, is fresh from a refurbishment, Colombo’s new Shangri-la is about to open and Marriott has recently launched its first Sri Lankan hotel.
And at Yala National Park, one of the best places in the world to see leopards, 28 five-star tents are now open at Wild Coast Tented Lodge.
Years of turmoil saw Egypt’s ancient wonders drop down travellers’ bucket lists, but it’s back. Aussie-based tour company Scenic is geared for its first Egypt tours since 2013, Viking River Cruises is set to launch its new Nile ship and Emirates has just added extra flights to Cairo to cater to growing tourist numbers.
Meanwhile, Nile cruise operator Sanctuary Retreats has declared there’s never been a better time to visit Egypt, before the tourist hordes return. The country’s main attractions are ancient, and they remain as intriguing as ever in 2018, with previously restricted archaeological areas opening up; and scientists only last month revealing a new discovery of a mysterious hidden void in the Great Pyramid of Giza.
In another first for 2018, Intrepid Travel added an Egypt itinerary focused on the biannual Abu Simbel Sun Festival solar phenomenon.
Neighbouring Croatia has been hogging the limelight but 2018 is shaping up as Slovenia’s year to shine. Slovenia’s compact size belies its vast array of attractions – alpine scenery, castles and picturesque Lake Bled – with luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent naming the “tiny gem of a country” as No. 1 on its hot list of emerging destinations.
InterContinental has just opened the first five-star hotel in the capital, Ljubljana, with the company describing Slovenia as one of Europe’s “rising stars”. And Lonely Planet gives the country’s Julian Alps a top-three ranking in its best regions for 2018.
4 PATAGONIA, CHILE
Dramatic fjords, turquoise lakes, glaciers and mountains – they’re etched onto many a bucket list, and Chile has been rocketing up the charts with Aussies lately.
Next year is shaping up to be a big one after Lonely Planet named it the world’s best country to visit for 2018, thanks in part to the launch of new direct flights between Melbourne and Santiago.
Despite the capital city’s many benefits, for most, the country’s real attraction lies in the exquisite and remote beauty of Patagonia. One of the most sparsely populated places on earth, the remote region is attracting a growing number of landbased tours, including treks through the Torres del Paine National Park, as well as new cruise itineraries set to visit in 2018.
5 SOUTH KOREA
For years now, Aussies have been heading to Japan for snow, exotic cuisine, intriguing culture, modern cities, fast trains and cherry blossoms. Now they’re discovering South Korea offers all that and more.
The country is set to hit the spotlight as the host of the 2018 Winter Olympics, and it’s caught the attention of Lonely Planet’s experts, being named one of the top countries to visit in 2018.
Super-fast trains make it possible to travel the entire length of the country, from Seoul to Busan, in about two hours. And with its major airport taking a place in the world’s top three, and Korean Air recently named the world’s best economy airline, it’s well placed to attract travellers looking to broaden their horizons with a new stopover spot.
6 KAUAI, HAWAII
Aussie holiday-makers are no strangers to United States’ 50th state but 2018 will be big for ventures beyond the most touristy islands.
Kauai, known as the Garden Island, is the least developed of Hawaii’s major islands, thanks to a rule preventing buildings taller than a coconut tree. Recently listed among US magazine Travel + Leisure’s top 10 islands, Kauai is ripe for discovery.
The island’s airport is scheduled for an upgrade, and tour group G Adventures is about to launch its first Hawaii itinerary, on which Kauai is the highlight.
G Adventures calls the island “a nature lover’s dream, with stunning mountains that crash into the sea, majestic waterfalls, red-rock canyons, and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world”.
It’s been pegged as Europe’s next big thing for years but Portugal remains less touristy than its neighbours – and surprisingly cheap for Western Europe.
Lisbon, its cultured temperate capital, has drawn comparisons with Paris and Barcelona.
No wonder Portugal found its way onto Lonely Planet’s 2018 hot list – as well as those of just about every other travel company around.
The food is a standout – seven new Portuguese restaurants earned Michelin stars in 2017 – and hotel, cruise and tour operators are flocking to the country.
Yet, according to tour operator Busabout, it’s still quiet enough that when you “discover” a gem like the charming old town of Evora, you feel like you’re in on a secret.
8 KOH RONG ISLANDS, CAMBODIA
Dubbed the Thailand of 20 years ago, Cambodia’s southern islands are about to steal the spotlight as one of the “it destinations” of 2018.
Until recently a relatively wellkept secret among backpackers and budget travellers, the Koh Rong islands near Sihanoukville are being “discovered” by mainstream travellers, especially since international flights began servicing Sihanoukville last year.
Luxury resort Song Saa Private Island opened a few years back and has already taken its place among the world’s top hotels, and in 2018, two more stunning five-star island resorts, Alila Villas Koh Russey and Six Senses Krabey Island, are scheduled to open, attracting a whole new wave of high-end travellers.
9 CHENGDU, CHINA
Two words: giant pandas. Sure, Chengdu is also home to picturesque temples and the famous spicy Sichuan cuisine, but its panda breeding and research centre, home to the world’s largest captive panda population, is the No. 1 drawcard.
Chengdu is the fastest growing of China’s cities for tourists, having shot up by more than 20 per cent since 2009 according to Mastercard’s Global Cities Index, with searches among Aussie travellers up a whopping 115 per cent in the past year, according to Expedia.
New flights from Australia (Air China added direct flights from Sydney to the city last year) are helping fuel the interest. As tour operator Wendy Wu puts it: “Chengdu is a definite, a necessity, a must visit on any trip to China.”
10 MARALINGA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Yes, we’re talking about the nuclear testing site – in the desert, ages from anywhere and one of the most secret sites in Australian history. And yes, it’s now a tourist attraction.
In fact, local indigenous operators have been running tours at the outback site for the past couple of years. And they’ve been such a success that in 2018, tour company APT is featuring the remote destination in a new itinerary.
So, why would you visit there? Well for starters, the slogan, “Not Kazakhstan, not Nevada, but South Australia’s Maralinga” is intriguing enough to warrant the epic Eyre Highway trip. “Our product manager planned this tour ... visiting the site first-hand. The stories from the area are truly captivating,” APT says.
Lake Bled showcases stunning scenery in Slovenia, a rising star rocketing up the destination charts. The 2018 hot list features wildlife drawcards such as pandas in China, secret islands in Cambodia and the return of old favourites like Egypt.