By Aneesh Mohanan
The year 2022 is the one to return to the world and make your fantasy vacations a reality, whether they are to far-off places or familiar haunts.
01. Cook Islands
The Cook Islands are made up of 15 land droplets that are dispersed across 2 million square kilometers of the untamed Pacific Ocean. They are both remote and reachable, as well as modern and traditional.
Rarotonga has a strong cafe culture, a burgeoning organic and artisan food scene, and a handful of bars and clubs. In contrast, the island has a vibrant culture that is deeply rooted in oral history and traditional Polynesian values. This culture can be found beyond the island’s tourist industry and modern appearance.
‘Norway is one of the most beautiful countries on earth, and that is the essence of its appeal’
Norwegian fjords with impossibly steep sides and extraordinary beauty carve deep interior gashes from a rugged coastline. Large and magnificent glaciers descend from some of Europe’s biggest ice fields. In other places, Norway’s interior is covered in mountains that resemble the ramparts of numerous natural fortresses and gives way to rocky coastal islands that appear to float out of the water. Of course, there is also the Arctic’s stark and breathtaking beauty, which has a primal appeal. And wherever you are in this most extraordinary country, you will find some of Europe’s most charming villages set against these landscapes.
The Call to Action
Norway is one of the most exciting and diverse adventure tourism destinations in Europe, and enjoying nature there is very much an active endeavour. Most of the activities on offer, including world-class hiking, cycling, and white-water rafting in the summer and dog-sledding, skiing, and snowmobiling in the winter, can be enjoyed by anyone of reasonable fitness. However, some of the activities are targeted toward the young, spirited, and fearless. These activities are an exhilarating way to connect with nature, whether you’re visiting for the seemingly endless summer possibilities or the soul-stirring Northern Lights in the winter.
The vibrant cultural life of Norway serves as a counterpoint to the country’s unfailing natural beauty. Norwegian cities are multicultural and exhibit the renowned Scandinavian aesthetic throughout the ages. Cities like Bergen, Trondheim, and Lesund must undoubtedly be among Europe’s most picturesque ones, and both urban centres and remote rural areas are adorned with modern buildings with Arctic influences. Food is another cultural obsession that allows Norwegians to embrace innovation while also embracing tradition with a passion. In addition, a full calendar of festivals, many of which are well-known abroad, is worth organising your trip around.
Norway doesn’t have many European rivals when it comes to wildlife. Depending on the time of year, you can see humpback, sperm, and orca whales off the coasts of Andenes, St., or Troms, while the interior is home to wild reindeer, ancient musk oxen, ponderous elk (moose), or seductive Arctic foxes. The puffins of Bleik and the migratory seabirds of Runde and Varanger are both highlights of birdwatching. The real treasures, however, can be found in Svalbard, Norway’s high Arctic, where polar bears and walruses serve as the model species for a wilderness of extraordinary, dramatic, and precarious beauty.
Heaven was modelled after Mauritius; it was created after Mauritius. In general, it’s accurate to say that Mauritius is well-known for its sapphire waters, snow-white beaches, and opulent resorts. However, Mauritius offers much more than just beaches, and it’s the kind of place that rewards even the smallest efforts of exploration.
World-class diving and snorkelling are available offshore, and there is hiking in the interior’s forested and mountainous terrain. Boat excursions can be taken to nearly perfect islets, botanical gardens, and colonial plantation homes.
In addition to having amazing food, Mauritius is a great place to see wildlife. And the real Mauritius, which is a hot curry of various cultures and quiet fishing villages, is never far from the beach resorts.
Belize is a tiny country that is crammed with islands, adventure, and culture, with one foot in the Caribbean Sea and the other in the Central American jungles.
Reefs & Cayes
The Belize Barrier Reef is the second-largest in the world, after Australia’s, and with more than 100 different types of coral and 500 different species of tropical fish, it is a scuba diver and snorkeler’s dream come true. While divers go deeper, exploring underwater caves and walls and the renowned Blue Hole, snorkelers are treated to a kaleidoscope of coral, fish, whale sharks, and turtles while swimming through transparent seas.
A perfect tropical getaway is made even better by the island life on the sandy cays, where you can spend your days kayaking, windsurfing, SUP-ing, swimming, fishing, or simply relaxing in a hammock.
In the Jungle
Inland, a vast (by Belizean standards) network of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and protected areas provide a safe haven for wildlife ranging from cutter ant parades to tapirs, noisy howler monkeys, and shy jaguars. About 570 species of birds, which roost in the broadleaf forest, along rivers and lagoons, are the focus of birdwatchers’ binoculars. Visitors with keen eyesight who take the time to hike can easily spot spider monkeys, peccaries, coatimundis, gibnuts, and green iguanas. Even Belize’s flamboyant national bird, the keel-billed toucan, occasionally makes an appearance in public.
In the Mayan Land
The ancient Maya, one of the most enigmatic civilizations in the world, resided in Belize. There are numerous Maya archaeological sites in the Cayo District and Toledo’s Deep South, where steep staircases lead to the summits of tall stone temples, frequently providing 360-degree views of the jungle. Descent into natural caves to see where the Maya kings performed rituals and offered sacrifices to their underworld gods, or explore unearthed tombs and study intricate hieroglyphs. By staying in village guesthouses and discovering the craft of chocolate-making in the south, you can better understand the culture there today.
Action & Adventure
Belize is a genuine adventure, whether you’re ziplining through the jungle canopy, rappelling down waterfalls, or exploring old cave networks while scuba diving the Blue Hole. You can go tubing or canoeing through mysterious underground river systems in Cayo District or engage in extreme spelunking in the renowned Actun Tunichil Muknal cave. There are six locations where you can zip through the jungle, making ziplining in Cayo and Southern Belize practically an art form. In national parks like Mayflower Bocawina National Park, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Shipstern Nature Reserve, and Rio Bravo, horseback riding is well-organized and hiking is excellent.
Slovenia, an earthly paradise of snow-capped mountains, emerald rivers, and a coastline in the Venetian style, enhances its natural wonders with tasteful architecture, endearing rustic culture, and upscale cuisine.
Tiny Slovenia truly has it all, from the towering Julian Alps to the magical Postojna and Kocjan caves, to the glistening emerald-green lakes and rivers, to the short but sweet Adriatic Sea coastline. Warm Mediterranean breezes are brought up to the foothills of the Alps by an amazing climatic fusion, where it can snow even in the summer. Slovenia is one of the greenest nations on earth, with more than half of its land still covered in forests, so it goes beyond simply claiming to be “green.”
Slovenia is primarily a vacation spot for outdoor enthusiasts. You will be encouraged—even expected—to participate in the active vacations that the locals enjoy. There are countless activities available, with skiing, mountain walking and hiking, and—increasingly—cycling ranking among the most popular pastimes. Fast rivers like the Soča cry to be rafted, and there are plenty of opportunities to try out more specialised pursuits like horseback riding, hot air ballooning, caving, and canyoning. You can always leave the area and take a dip in the Adriatic if all this sounds like too much.
Architectural & Cultural Treasures
You could be excused for thinking that everything beautiful in this greenest of verdant green lands is, well, entirely natural. However, this isn’t always the case. Where man interferes, it is frequently to good effect, as at Lake Bled, where a tiny baroque chapel on a picturesque island and a dramatic castle rising above complete a unified whole. The architecture is incredibly diverse, ranging from the coastal Venetian harbour towns to the rustic Hungarian-style farmhouses of Prekmurje, as well as the Gothic churches of the Julian Alps and the art nouveau splendours of Ljubljana. The museums are extensive, and the culture is alive and well.
A Personal Preference
Slovenian cuisine blends influences from all of its neighbours, including Italy, Austria, Hungary, and the Balkans, to create dishes that are both recognisable and distinctive. Slovenes are obsessed with using only organic, locally sourced ingredients. The end result is a fantastic foodie destination where you can sample dishes in unique combinations, including mouthwatering pasta dumplings made of potato, chives, and bacon, salads dressed with nutty pumpkinseed oil, and a multilayered dessert called gibanica. Slovenian wine is a strength that goes unnoticed, and local whites and reds go well with regional specialties.
Anguilla is the Caribbean dream come true, ringed by shiny white-sand beaches shaded by coconut palms and sea grape trees and dotted with brightly painted, open-sided beach bars serving sizzling barbecues, feisty rum punches, and live reggae music. Glass-bottomed kayaking, sailing, and snorkelling in its clear waters and vibrant reefs are all fantastic ways to explore the offshore islets and atolls.
The Amerindian and Arawak people settled the island, which has a long and diverse history. Stunning rock art is still being found in places like Fountain Cavern National Park. Furthermore, unlike many nearby islands, the terrain is flat, making it simple to travel by car, bicycle, or quad bike.
Of course, there is a catch. The cost of authenticity is high in Anguilla because it is not a cheap vacation destination. Jet-setters seeking a getaway off the beaten path are catered to by upscale hotels and private villas. Visit off-peak times to experience paradise at a lower cost.
The Grand Mosque in Muscat is home to a stunning hand-loomed carpet that once held the record for largest rug in the world until Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque in the United Arab Emirates surpassed it. This is noteworthy because Oman doesn’t claim many “firsts” or “biggests” in a region that thrives on display.
A strong sense of identity, pride in an ancient, frankincense-trading past, and assurance in a highly educated future are what it does boast, along with a rich heritage and an embracing society.
For visitors, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage with the Arab world without the distorting lens of excessive wealth. Low-rise towns in Oman still have a certain old-world charm, and Bedouin values still form the foundation of Omani hospitality. Oman is the obvious choice for those looking for the modern face of Arabia while still wanting to feel its ancient soul because of its abundance of natural beauty, including magnificent mountains, wind-blown deserts, and a pristine coastline.
Nepal, a trekkers’ haven, offers one of the best travel destinations in the world by fusing Himalayan views, golden temples, charming hill towns, and jungle wildlife viewing.
For mountain lovers, the Nepal Himalaya represents the pinnacle. With challenging trails leading to Everest, the Annapurnas, and beyond, this area offers some of the most famous and easily accessible hiking in the Himalaya. Nowhere else is it possible to hike through breathtaking mountain scenery for days on end while knowing that a hot meal, cosy lodge, and warm slice of apple pie are waiting for you at the end of the day.
Then there is the rush that comes with rafting down a raging river in Nepal or bungee jumping into a gaping Himalayan gorge. With some of the most dramatic landscapes in the world as their backdrop, canyoning, climbing, kayaking, paragliding, and mountain biking all provide an adrenaline rush.
Medieval Cities & Sacred Sites
Other tourists prefer to experience Nepal at a more leisurely pace, taking in the mountains while sipping a gin and tonic at sunset, wandering through Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur’s mediaeval city squares, and joining Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims on a contemplative tour of centuries-old stupas and monasteries. Nepal is still the Himalaya’s cultural powerhouse, despite the 2015 earthquake, and the Kathmandu Valley in particular has an unmatched selection of world-class palaces, secret backstreet shrines, and exquisite temple art. Additionally, Nepal is a great place to learn about a variety of topics, including Tibetan Buddhism and how to make the best momos (dumplings).
Few nations in the world are as well suited to independent travel as Nepal. Walking through Thamel and Pokhara’s trekking stores, bakeries, and pizzerias, it’s simple to imagine yourself in some sort of backpacker Disneyland. In the countryside, there is a very different Nepal where traditional mountain life is still practised slowly and where there are countless opportunities for adventures. One of the reasons why so many people keep coming back to Nepal is because finding enough time to fit everything in can be a real challenge.
A chain of wild and woolly national parks can be found south of Nepal’s mountains, where nature enthusiasts can search the jungles for rhinos, tigers, and crocodiles as well as subtropical treetops for rare bird species. Choose between a posh safari lodge in the heart of Chitwan or embark on a more adventurous journey to isolated Bardia or Koshi Tappu, stopping along the way to visit the birthplace of Buddha on the humid plains close to Lumbini. Nepal offers an astoundingly diverse range of attractions and landscapes, whether you travel the country on a motorbike, mountain bike, raft, or tourist bus.
The first thing that strikes you about this vibrant nation, aside from the fabled friendliness of the Malawians, is its geographic diversity. The third-largest lake in Africa, Lake Malawi, cuts through the landscape in a trough created by the Great Rift Valley. It is a shimmering mass of clear water, and the depths are teeming with vibrant cichlid fish. A trip to the lake is essential, whether for scuba diving, snorkelling, kayaking, or just lounging on beaches and desert islands.
A hiker’s paradise with mist-cowled forests and exotic wildlife, Malawi’s deep south is home to the dramatic peaks of Mt. Mulanje and the mysterious Zomba Plateau. The Nyika Plateau, with its rolling grasslands that resemble the Scottish Highlands, is located further north and has an otherworldly beauty.
A lion reintroduction programme at Majete Wildlife Reserve transformed Malawi from being disregarded as a safari destination to one of the few worthwhile wildlife-watching locations in the country.
Many people are drawn to Egypt by the mighty Nile and the magnificent monuments, while others are awed by the alluring desert and lush delta. It is a traveler’s haven when you consider the nation’s lengthy and enduring past and culture rich in legends.
Pyramids & More
Egypt awakens the scholar in all of us with its sand-covered tombs, stern pyramids, and soaring Pharaonic temples. See the glittering finds in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, where Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered. Take a Nile cruise and get off at Dendara, Edfu, or one of the other waterside temples, cross Lake Nasser to Abu Simbel, the masterpiece of Ramses II, or explore the desert in search of the remains of Roman trading outposts. You never know, your donkey might make yet another discovery—after all, that’s how many earlier discoveries were made.
Cairo, the City Victorious, was the capital of Egypt’s former empire in Al Qahira. The city is crammed with some of the finest examples of mediaeval Islamic architecture, including mosques and schools with soaring minarets. The Copts, who are native Christians in Egypt, have continued their traditions, many of which date back to the pharaonic era. Examples of these traditions include the church’s liturgical language and the traditional calendar. Discover the past in remote desert monasteries and ancient churches in Cairo.
Beyond the Beaches
They’re waiting for you in Egypt—that deserted beach with just a candlelit cabin and an active coral reef offshore. The coast of the Red Sea is rewarding to explore on a multiday trip to one of the world’s top dives or on an afternoon snorkelling excursion along a coral wall because it has a rugged desert beauty above the waterline and a psychedelic vibrancy below. The vast deserts of Egypt offer even more space and beauty. Egypt’s landscapes are endlessly fascinating, whether you’re observing the sun rise between the stunning forms of the White Desert or the shimmering horizon from the comfort of a hot spring in Siwa Oasis.
Going with the Flow
The old adage that Egypt is the Nile’s gift still holds true: without the river, there would be no fertile land, no food, and much less electricity. Although people’s lives are becoming increasingly disconnected from the water, the Nile continues to play a unique and powerful role. A Nile cruise is still a very popular way to travel because, fortunately for tourists, it is the ideal location from which to view many of the most magnificent ancient monuments.