Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Why: This beachside Brazilian city knows how to party – the annual Carnival festival (Feb 28-March 4, 2014) attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors with its outrageous costumes and lavish parades. And when you’re not celebrating, there are plenty of World Heritage sites and attractions to visit in town as well, not in the least the 30-metre-tall Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado mountain.
Why now: This year, the festive fever is taken up a notch with the arrival of the World Cup, from June 12 to July 13. The event will be hosted across a number of Brazilian cities, but Rio will shine as the location of the opening and closing ceremonies.
Don’t miss: If you can’t get a ticket to the World Cup, secure a spot of sand on Copacabana Beach – Brazil has won the cup five times before, and the locals head to the water to celebrate.
Why: The largest city in Scotland is one of the most liveable cities in the world, and has one of Europe’s liveliest music scenes. The City of Architecture and Design in 1999, it’s also home to eye-catching buildings from the likes of Zaha Hadid and Sir Norman Foster, their cutting-edge creations set beside medieval buildings.
Why now: 2014 is a big year for Glasgow, with the country declaring it the year of Scotland Homecoming – to encourage Scots around the world to reunite on home soil, with special events, exhibits and activities planned – not to mention the XX Commonwealth Games (July 23-August 3). The mini-Olympics sees athletes from Commonwealth countries compete over 11 days and is set to become the largest multi-sport event ever to be held in the country.
Don’t miss: All eyes will be on the country when, in mid-September, Scotland will vote on whether to become independent from the UK.
Why: If you like getting off the beaten track, then you’ll love the bumpy roads in Bhutan. High daily visa costs have become a natural barrier to high tourist numbers, which means that the Kingdom of Happiness is still relatively untouched.
Why now: Making the most of the country’s dramatic Himalayan scenery, Gangtey Goenpa Lodge has just opened in the remote Phobjikha Valley. In addition to offering stylish guest rooms set in buildings inspired by Bhutanese farmhouses, the property is the base for new hot-air balloon flights, operating from May and set to become the world’s highest commercial balloon operation.
Don’t miss: A visit to Bhutan’s Paro Taktsang monastery (also known as Tiger’s Nest). The sacred temple complex clings to the cliffside in the Paro Valley and can be accessed via a scenic walk known as the route of the Hundred Thousand Fairies.
Why: Not so long ago, Bogota was off-limits to all but the most seasoned travellers. Today, however, the Colombian capital is one of the most dynamic cities in South America – crime is down, business is booming and the restaurant and hotel scenes are uniting style and substance in equal measure.
Why now: It’s not a likely location for the largest theatre festival in the world, but in April, that’s exactly what Bogotá will host. The Ibero-Americano Theater Festival of Bogotá takes place every two years and in 2014 will showcase more than 450 performances and 150 street productions, attracting some two million people over 17 days.
Don’t miss: Bogota’s old historic centre La Candelaria is packed with atmosphere – and food vendors. Try the arepa corn pancake, fried and stuffed with varying ingredients such as cheese and chorizo.
Why: The world’s most southern continent is a vast, white wilderness of snow and ice. New environmental rules have limited the number of expedition ships able to access the area, which means that your chances of spotting elusive animals is on the rise.
Why now: All eyes are on Antarctica in 2014, the 100th anniversary of the year when Sir Ernest Shackleton set off on his expedition to the South Pole. If you travel there with Aurora Expeditions you’ll not only get the chance to take in the dramatic scenery of the Antarctic Circle and Peninsula, but will also have the opportunity to snorkel and dive with penguins, seals and whales.
Don’t miss: Although some might claim that it’s cheating if you fly to Antarctica – crossing the notoriously rough Drake’s Passage by ship is seen as a right of passage – those who suffer from seasickness will applaud the relatively new fly-in option from Australia.
Quang Binh, Vietnam
Why: Central Vietnam’s Quang Binh province is the site of one of South-East Asia’s most exciting new natural attractions: the Son Doong Caves. One of the largest of its kind in the world, the vast cave is lit by huge shafts of light and is home to an underground river, which means that forests of trees and shrubs thrive in sprawling chambers – the largest is 200m high. It’s also a habitat for monkeys, hornbills and flying foxes.
Why now: For the first time ever, Son Doong is open to tourists thanks to tour operator Oxalis. But get in fast, because there are only 220 permits available for the year, and seven-day tours – which see you pitching tents on the floor of the cave – here cost some US$3000/person.
Don’t miss: If you can’t get your hands on one of the coveted Son Doong permits, Oxalis also offer multi-day caving experiences to nearby Tu Lan and Hang En cave systems.
Why: From healing mineral-laced waters to glacial fields and active volcanoes, the Land of Fire and Ice is not short of dramatic landscapes. Its capital, Reikyavic, is also home to some of Europe’s most cutting-edge architecture, including the recently opened Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Centre, designed by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson.
Why now: The Aurora Borealis wows whenever you see it, the surreal light display at its most dazzling in high altitudes. And this year, scientists are predicting that the Northern Lights will offer the most spectacular display of the next decade thanks to an 11-year cycle of solar activity will peak during the country’s winter months. Head to the country’s more remote regions, away from city lights, for the best viewing conditions.
Don’t miss: A visit to the country’s Blue Lagoon is a must, the geothermal spa located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula.
San Sebastián, Spain
Why: Hemmed by some of the world’s most applauded wine regions and with a culinary culture that draws foodies in droves, San Sebastián in Spain’s northern Basque region, is also home to one of Europe’s best in-city beaches. Which means that after your Michelin-starred meal (the city has more stars per capita than any other city in the world) you can pull up a patch of sand overlooking the Bay of Biscay while you digest your meal.
Why now: Named the European Capital of Culture in 2016, San Sebastián’s popularity looks set to explode in coming years. A host of community events are in the planning, as well as infrastructural improvements to ensure that the influx of visitors will experience the city smoothly.
Don’t miss: Given the city’s focus on food, it comes as no surprise it’s the site of the new Basque Culinary Centre. The striking building, designed by Vaumm Architecture & Urbanism, is reason to visit on its own.
Why: There’s a lot to like about this South Pacific gem, not in the least its world-class diving and snorkelling sites, picture-perfect beaches and tropical islands that you wouldn’t mind finding yourself marooned on for a week or two. Then there’s the kayaking, horse riding, village visits, dolphin spotting – and fabulous food scene. Fromage fanatics won’t want to miss the annual cheese festival.
Why now: In addition to a refurbished international airport and improved roads, New Cal’s capital Noumea will soon be home to the high-profile Sheraton New Caledonia Deva Resort & Spa. This follows hot on the heals of the Hilton Noumea La Promenade Residences – but when you have aquamarine lagoons on your doorstep, it’s hard to justify a moment in your hotel room.
Don’t miss: Designed by Renzo Piano, the Tjibaou Cultural Centre is home to one of the world’s largest collections of Pacific art.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Why: Addis is evolving at a fast pace, and is now a showcase for some of the region’s most forward-thinking contemporary galleries. Hand in hand with the artwork come cool cafes and restaurants and artisan-driven boutiques.
Why now: It’s home to one of east Africa’s oldest art schools, so it may come as no surprise that the Ethiopian capital is set to host a diverse range of creative events this year. The Addis Foto Fest (Dec. 1-7) will explore the notion of image through a global framework, and the Acacia Jazz & world music Festival (Feb. 8-9) will see a globetrotting collection of musicians descend to entertain crowds.
Don’t miss: The Ras Tafari: The Majesty and the Movement exhibition (May-June) at the National Museum is devoted to Emperor Haile Selassie I and Rastafarianism.
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