Last January, I posted my first annual "Where to Go" list. Of the 6 places that made it to the 2015 edition, I managed to visit just 2 of them. I clearly wasn't ambitious enough last year, so I've decided to more than double the number of destinations for 2016. All of them were selected for a variety of reasons, from new art installations to presidential elections.
Just going through the process of compiling this list has reaffirmed my love for travel. While It's highly unlikely I'll visit all 16 destinations this year, there's no harm in trying!
Asia & Australia
1. Homestay in Krygyzstan
One of my favorite pastimes is virtually exploring Central Asia in Google Maps. I love zooming in as close as possible on tiny, obscure towns. I'm not sure what I'm looking for, but I've always been fascinated by the 'Stans. Their strategic position along the ancient Silk Road have made these countries a melting pot of religious, political and even culinary influences. Sadly, their most recognized cultural ambassador is the fictitious Kazakshstani reporter, Borat.
Of all the 'Stans, Krygyzstan is perhaps the most accessible (and ruggedly beautiful). Unlike its neighbors, Kyrgyzstan does not require tourists from most countries to apply for a visa. The country also has a great community-based tourism network, so visitors can easily connect with local guides and homestays.
2. China's Great Silk Road
Some of China's most breathtaking terrain and fascinating ruins are further inland, far away from the country's eastern megacities. Not surprisingly, travelers will discover many of these landmarks (like Jiayuguan's Great Wall Fort pictured above) along the aforementioned Silk Road. I've been eager to join an overland tour that traverses China's Gansu and Xinjiang provinces.
3. Chengdu, China
I've been a bit reluctant to visit urban China again given the country's notorious pollution, traffic and overpopulation. However, as far as Chinese megacities go, Chengdu has a "modest" population of just 14 million residences. The provincial capital is known for its relatively relaxed vibe, delicious Sichuan cuisine and abundance of pandas. Like many burgeoning Chinese cities, Chengdu is rapidly evolving, so who knows how long many of the region's greatest traditions will be preserved.
4. Melbourne, Australia
It's no surprise that many of London's earliest and finest specialty coffee shops (Flat White, Kaffeine and Allpress to name a few) were started by Antipodean expats. Aussies (and Kiwis) know their coffee. Despite some heavy competition, Melbourne is regarded as the top coffee destination in Australia. With more and more direct flights launching from London Heathrow, DFW and LAX, traveling Down Under has become considerably faster. Now all I have to do is schedule a trip during the Australian Open.
5. Hokkaido, Japan
Although I've visited Sapporo before, I don't think my 2 day stop in Hokkaido's capital did the province justice. This northernmost island is considered Japan's "final frontier". From unspoiled nature and powdery white slopes to indigenous Ainu culture and fresh seafood, Hokkaido has so much more to offer.
7. Ring Road, Iceland
This April, I will be taking 10 days to drive around Iceland (literally) along the circular Route 1, or "Ring Road". With so many cheap flight options courtesy of Icelandair and WOW, this Nordic country is more accessible than ever before. Now the only question is if I should traverse the island clockwise or counterclockwise. Decisions, decisions...
8. Faroe Islands
Prior to my Iceland road trip, I'm planning on making a stop in Faroe Islands. This lesser known Atlantic archipelago is arguably just as dramatic (and rocky) as its neighbor to the west. Surprisingly, this diminutive country has quickly become one of the top destinations for Nordic cuisine.
9. Rotterdam, Netherlands
In need of some creative inspiration, Michael and I are planning a short trip to Rotterdam for our next weekend city break. While Amsterdam may get most of the attention, Rotterdam is arguably Netherland's foremost hub of design and creativity.
10. Medellín, Colombia
Binge watching Narcos set Michael and I down a dangerous rabbit hole of Google searches. What is the crime rate in Colombia? What is Medellín like today? We were surprised to find that this once crime-ridden drug capital of Colombia has become one of the country's most innovative and revitalized cities.
11. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galápagos Islands are another destination we long considered too far and too difficult to reach. Thankfully, American Airlines just launched daily direct flights between Dallas and Quito, making these tiny, biodiverse islands off the coast of Ecuador that much easier to get to. Now we're one step closer to rubbing shoulders with giant tortoises, blue footed boobies and seals!
Central America & The Caribbean
12. Havana, Cuba
This one is a bit of a no-brainer. With the recent travel embargo lift, there will soon be a rush in US commercial flights to Havana. As tourism skyrockets and commercialization takes hold, it's best to visit Cuba ASAP before it "changes".
13. San Pedro, Belize
Ever since we met our friends Courtney and Peter, we've been eager to visit San Pedro. Not only is Belize a short flight away from multiple US cities, it also offers agreeable weather year-round and clear, blue water perfect for scuba diving and snorkeling. All this makes for a perfect short break destination.
14. Washington, DC
Why am I so keen on visiting a city I lived in for 7 years? Because it's an election year! Every 4 years, a certain sense of excitement (and anxiety) descends upon our nation's capital. DC also happens to have an innovative food scene that continues to grow and evolve. There are so many new spots like Rose's Luxury, Compass Coffee and Maketto that I'm eager to try as well as some old favorites like Rasika and The Tombs that I'm excited to revisit.
15. New Orleans, Louisiana
Here's another old stomping ground I'm hoping to revisit soon. I spent a year in New Orleans while working on a project with Deloitte. Since then, I've been craving the city's unrivaled Cajun cuisine. Adding to an already vibrant food scene, the revamped St. Roch Market opened last year, complete with a dozen plus local food and coffee vendors. New Orleans also gets its very own Ace Hotel this spring.
16. San Juan Islands, Washington
This archipelago just north of Seattle is home to beautiful vistas, endless outdoor adventures and laid-back towns. With mild weather year-round, it offers the perfect escape from the daily grind.