The next big things
There are five destinations you need to visit right now, says globetrotter Ben Groundwater.
Remember when no-one would go to Cambodia? Or if you did, people would think you had some sort of death wish. The country was known only for Pol Pot, landmines and genocide. No-one really wanted to go for a holiday in Cambodia. But obviously things have changed – the demise of a regime led to a boom in tourism. Only 10 years ago the temples of Angkor were getting about 270,000 foreign visitors annually. Last year, that number swelled to more than two million.
That’s how things often work – one day a country is a no-go zone, the next it’s in recovery mode, and pretty soon the backpackers have turned up to forge the path for tourism.
Among the travelling set now, everyone wants to go for a holiday in Cambodia. Croatia, too, is at the top of many people’s lists. Laos is popular. Vietnam is huge.
But what are the next big things? Which countries are you soon going to be wishing you visited now, before everyone else arrived? These are my picks.
Despite its years behind the Iron Curtain, and recent unrest over entry into the European Union, the Ukraine could become the next Croatia, or the next Czech Republic, that European country with beauty and adventure in spades. From the party scene in Odessa to the charm of Lviv, all of the qualities are there.
The word is out on Colombia. The country formerly known for drug-related violence and, well, drugs, has changed, and the tourists are arriving. With good reason, too. You have Caribbean coastlines in Colombia, you have Amazon jungle, you have nightlife in Medellin, you have surf beaches in the south and little fishing villages in the north. Soon enough, it will be amainstream destination.
The signs are good for Iran. With a new government less likely to invent fake fighter planes but more likely, it seems, to open up a dialogue with the West. The country is going to be seen increasingly as a viable tourism option. It’s cheap to travel in Iran, plus it’s safe, it’s friendly and it’s fascinating. It won’t stay quiet for long.
Eventually, the violence will stop. It has to. And when that time comes, when the drug cartels loosen their grip on this amazing part of the world, the travellers are going to come flooding back, probably in far larger numbers than before. Mexico is one awesome destination – for food, for history, for culture, for nightlife . . . just waiting to open up again.
Civil unrest in the north and the devastation of the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami in the south have slowed the progress of tourism here, but things are rapidly improving. This is an affordable destination with beaches, mountains, temples, great food and fantastic locals. Once people realise it’s also safe, they’ll come pouring in.