They're melting and sinking. They're booming—or busting. They're jaw-droppingly scenic and cosmopolitan. One thing that's clear about our nods for the best travel destinations of 2012 is that they're changing, and fast, which means the coming year is perfect for a trip of a lifetime. Now that we've spun the globe and picked our top spots, it's your turn to make it happen—and, of course, to let us know which ones we missed.
Thanks to climate change, this enormous country (which has a human population of 57,000 and a sled-dog population of 30,000) might soon become too hot for its own good—in more ways than one. Rumor has it that Greenland could be sitting on some 47 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. Temps are trending five degrees above normal. And the number of people visiting on cruise ships has doubled since 2004. Yes, it might be year-round Northern Lights. It might be restaurants reachable only by helicopter. Or the world's biggest and least-visited protected park. Our bet? Greenland is starting to live up to its unlikely name, and people want to catch it while it's still under ice.
This tiny archipelago of 1,200 islands and atolls in the Indian Ocean is the epitome of paradise: coral reefs, constant sunshine, bathwater lagoons, and opulent resorts going up as fast as couples can say "I do." It's also the lowest country on the planet, with an average elevation of five feet above sea level and a high point of seven feet, seven inches. Think about the threat of sea level rise, then do the math: You can tell your grandchildren that you saw a disappearing nation way back in 2012.
Once virtually ostracized and still a land of red flags (in the form of tyrannical rule), this magical country is open for business. In fact, our own State Department says, "After a long period of isolation, Burma has started to encourage tourism." There is much to take in, and it all has the feel of olden-day adventure travel: thousands of stupas, golden pagodas, floating gardens, creaky river steamers, and fortune tellers. Whether travel will help locals or pad the pockets of corrupt generals remains to be seen. The wonder of Burma, however, is ever clear.
With a geography that reaches from white-sand beaches to lush mountains, Colombia has always been a stunner. And now that the violence of the 80s and 90s is old news, the country has been dubbed South America's new paradise. Exhibit A: Cartagena, with a Buenos Aires-like stylishness. Exhibit B: Bogota, where an urban reinvention has yielded bike paths, fast buses, pedestrian bridges, and 1,200 new parks.
The stars—in this case, the Summer Olympics and the Queen's Jubilee—are aligning in The Big Smoke in 2012, and some $15 billion has been invested in polishing an already world-class city. (Think a new Four Seasons right on Hyde Park.) And that's not even counting the London 2012 Festival, with chances to see Cate Blanchett on stage and Gustavo Dudamel conducting on the podium.
In 2010, South Africa, host of the FIFA World Cup, both stole the continent's spotlight and illuminated Africa as a place of beauty, complexity, diversity, and enormity. But now that the hype has come and gone, it's Namibia's turn to shine. This young and rugged country has long been overshadowed by its perennially popular neighbors near (Botswana) and far (Kenya), but it has some of the most unusual and camera-loving landscapes in all of Africa, with orange dunes, shipwrecks, 8,500-square-mile Etosha National Park (twice as big as Yellowstone), and the second-largest gorge in the world, Fish River Canyon.
Yes, the country is going to κόλασηin a handbasket, but the upside—for travelers, at least—is that hotel prices, along with the general cost of living, are falling fast. And no matter the instability, the ancient history is still there in all its glory. If you're willing to take a relatively small risk, you'll be rewarded with amazing deals.
There's always some crazy guy on the corner holding a sign about Armageddon or the Rapture...so far it hasn't panned out. But unlike that guy, the Mayans were extraordinary timekeepers. And their 5,125-year calendar is coming to an end on December 21, 2012. So you better hurry up and see the volcanoes, fincas, highland lakes, and beach towns before it all comes crashing down.
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