From a sliver of South America that specialises in extremes to a corner of Africa that looks even more alluring than usual, here are 10 countries that our travel experts believe you should visit next year.
The Paine River wends its way from the towering Paine Massif in Torres del Paine National Park, a major natural draw of Chilean Patagonia © Matt Munro / Lonely Planet
Chile is a sinewy sliver of a nation, isolated from the rest of South America (and indeed the world) by the soaring Andes to the east, the vast Pacific Ocean to the west, the bone-dry Atacama Desert up north and the impenetrable wilds of Patagonia down south. From its disparate extremes to the ever-trendier capital of Santiago at its heart, the country’s citizens will unite in 2018 to mark 200 years of independence. Thanks to new non-stop flights from both London and Melbourne, it’s never been easier to catch a plane, raise a glass of pisco sour and toast the celebration.
The traditional rubs up against the futuristic in South Korea’s capital, Seoul © uschools / E+ / Getty Images
South Korea is a compact playground of Asian modernity. High-rises soar in the futuristic capital city, Seoul, which in 2017 received a huge facelift with the opening of its new Seoul-lo 7017, a high-line park with cafes, bars and libraries along a disused elevated highway. South Korea has embraced its hosting of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, and a new high-speed railway line will whisk travellers across the country to the Games. So don your hats and gloves to cheer on the best and brightest as they swoosh their way to glory. Or wait until it warms up and experience mountainous delights followed by steamy urban nightlife.
Sintra’s hilltop Castle of the Moors was constructed in the 8th and 9th centuries © saiko3p / Shutterstock
Portugal has emerged from the long shadow cast by neighbouring Spain, seizing the spotlight as a dynamic centre for art, culture and cuisine. A spate of artfully designed museums have opened in the past two years, there’s now a celebrated microbrewery scene, and rock-star Portuguese chefs are creating culinary buzz from Lisbon to the glittering beaches of the Algarve (seven new restaurants received Michelin stars in 2017). Heightening Portugal’s appeal are its incredible affordability and its natural wonders: in 2016, more than 300 beaches earned the coveted Blue Flag rating and two new biosphere reserves were named. It’s no surprise everyone is talking about this small, seafaring nation.
Camel farmers haul palm tree leaves past Lake Assal, the lowest point on the African continent © VUSLimited / iStockphoto / Getty Images
Positioned for dramatic effect, the petite nation of Djibouti is in the process of being ripped in three by diverging tectonic plates. Magma seethes beneath ever-thinning crust; Martian-like deserts spew steam from fumaroles; and sunken lake shores glisten with huge salt crystals. In geological terms, this is a sprint finish. But in human terms, this is spectacularly slow motion – a reason to make travel plans, not cancel them! Add intoxicating culture, beckoning beaches and incredible whale shark diving, and you have even more reasons to hop on a plane, or ride the brand new train, to witness Mother Nature at her brutal best in 2018.
The eighth wonder of the world? Rudyard Kipling thought so: Milford Sound, on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island © Marconi Couto de Jesus / Shutterstock
Twenty-five years ago, long before it was retrofitted to resemble Middle-earth, New Zealand began actively attracting adventure-seekers. A sweet suite of trails, the Great Walks, encouraged exploration of the country’s exquisite topography, taking tramping travellers through some of the world’s most extraordinary wilderness. In 2018, for the first time since the nine-track network was launched, a new Great Walk opens: the Pike29 Memorial Track. This 65km route, which commemorates 29 miners killed in 2010, wends between Blackball and Punakaiki on the South Island’s west coast, passing through Paparoa National Park, offering hikers and mountain bikers a sensational experience.
Attractively adorned Maltese townhouses line the streets of Valletta, a European Capital of Culture in 2018 © liseykina / iStockphoto / Getty Images
The long history of this Mediterranean archipelago is vividly evident. Prehistoric temples crown hills, 17th-century fortifications stalk the coast, and a warren of tunnels – from catacombs to air-raid shelters – dig deep underground. Its riches have been here for centuries, if not millennia, but Malta is experiencing a moment. This tiny nation’s buzz has been building to a crescendo in preparation for Valletta’s stint as European Capital of Culture for 2018. Expect baroque, pop and international film festivals, plus a contemporary art biennial. Not to mention a laid-back lifestyle born out of proximity to warm sea, beaches and more than 300 annual days of sunshine.
Built as a Persian citadel in the 4th century, Narikala Fortress overlooks the Georgian capital Tbilisi’s labyrinthine Old Town © Aaron Geddes Photography / Moment Open / Getty Images
At this crossroads of the South Caucasus, history is not a thing of the past but informs every complex chess move Georgia makes in the present. Forward-thinking but proud of tradition, this is a country of ancient recipes cooked up in tucked-away taverns where toastmasters raise glasses of spirits to honour heroes old and new. It’s so proud of its wine region that airport immigration officials often welcome travellers with a bottle of red along with their stamped passports. One hundred years ago, Georgia was declared an independent state in the wake of the Russian Revolution: just one of many reasons to raise a glass to toast 2018.
A typically breathtaking beach scene in Mauritius; the island nation celebrates 50 years of independence from the UK this year © Claire Willans / 500px
This brochure-perfect island idyll is justly famous for its dazzling sapphire seas and luxurious beach resorts, where the watery fun includes coral reef dives, kitesurfing, sea kayaking and lagoon cruises. During the colonial days, Mauritius was known as the ‘Star and Key of the Indian Ocean’ for its strategic position. These days there’s much afoot in the deep blue sky, with the government establishing the island as a hub for flights to mainland Africa. New connections to Mauritius include Air Mauritius and KLM’s service from Amsterdam. Past glories are also getting a spotlight in 2018, when the island celebrates 50 years of independence.
The ancient practice of cormorant fishing, where the bird catches fish too big to swallow, can still be witnessed in some parts of China © Pacmanfrog Photo / Moment RF / Getty Images
The world’s most populous country is big, beautiful and full of mystery and adventure. Since 2016, China has opened extensive new high-speed rail tracks, creating the largest HSR network on Earth. Běijīng’s imperial palace – the Forbidden City – has been upgraded in the past few years, and four previously restricted halls are now open to the public. Gargantuan Shanghai Tower welcomes visitors to the world’s highest observation deck, and in late 2017, cultural hub Design Society opened in the cosmopolitan city of Shenzhen, featuring a partnership gallery with London’s V&A Museum. Twenty-first century China is here to stay, so hop on board a bullet train and explore this modern Middle Kingdom.
Cape buffalo are a common, if intimidating, sight in South Africa’s wildlife-rich national parks © MHGALLERY / iStockphoto / Getty Images
Beaches and mountains, wildlife and wine, and let’s not forget vibrant culture and cosmopolitan Cape Town – South Africa has long been one of the world’s most alluring countries. This year the country’s many attractions will be bolstered by ‘Nelson Mandela Centenary 2018: Be the Legacy’, an official programme of events – some sporting, some educational, others devoted to the arts – aimed at honouring the legendary leader. The theme is to inspire values-based societies, with exhibitions related to transparency, service, respect, passion and integrity. So with more to see than ever, and favourable exchange rates offering great value, 2018 is a phenomenal year to visit South Africa.
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