I don’t know when or how the tradition started, but every January many of the nation’s top publications name their best places to travel for the coming year.
Sometimes the consensus selects a destination because it’s notably cheap or has changed recently—new attractions, a locale hosts a global event or because it starts accepting more foreigners. Other times the lists arbitrarily spotlight a familiar place simply because it hasn’t been recognized in a while.
Whatever the reasoning, these are the places that came up again and again this year—the “best places to go,” according to some of the biggest names in media. Oh, and Europe is notably absent.
Photo: Lima Pix, CC-BY
Just about every outlet named Brazil a top destination this year as its most famous city (Rio De Janeiro) gears up to host the Summer Olympics. But whether you take part in the crowded madness or not, the entire country costs a third as much as it did last year, thanks to a strong dollar. And domestic flights and infrastructure have somewhat improved since the recent World Cup, which makes this big country with a big heart easier to negotiate. Best time to go: December to March.
Photo: Moyan Brenn, CC-BY
Although not as buzz-worthy as Brazil, this enchanted archipelago was highly rated on many experts’ lists this year. Granted, there hasn’t been a bad year to visit Japan since the 1950s, and the country is as costly as ever. But if you want to get as far away from Western thought, language, food and culture as humanly possible, this is the furthest East you can go. The culture is out of this world, the people are friendly and the noodles are delicious. Best time to go: spring or autumn.
Celebrating 50 years of independence this year, Botswana (pictured at top) is not only a timely pick but a deserving one. Thanks to its many wildlife preserves and “glamping” safaris, it’s regarded by some as the best place on the continent to experience the fabled beasts and prey. Highlights include Moremi Wildlife Reserve, Makgadikgadi Pans National Park and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Best time to go: May to September.
Photo: Giuseppe Milo, CC-BY
The Home of The Brave and Land of The Free is no stranger to annual “best places to visit” lists. As the second most-visited country in the world, it’s always a popular destination, because it’s so big, beautiful, amenity-filled and diverse. Of note this year are its trend-setting National Parks, Hawaii (because it’s Hawaii) and New Mexico for being one of the republic’s most affordable adventure states. Best time to go: year-round.
Photo: Angelo Domini, CC-BY
After half a century of cat-fighting, the State Department finally allowed Americans to travel to Cuba last year. In other words, the floodgates have been opened. The time is now. Go before mainstream tourism changes the place. Go because it’s the most isolated country in the West Indies. Go because of the 1950s Afro-Latin time warp, narrow Caribbean streets and bright smiles of Old Havana await you. Best time to visit: November to May (to avoid heat and hurricanes).
Top photo: Justin Jensen, CC-BY
Off the Grid columnist Blake Snow writes epic stories for fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies. Follow him on Twitter.