Travel is all about timing. Political, economic, and cultural shifts can swiftly recalibrate a person’s notion of safe travel. Typhoons in Asia, rogue demagogues in South America, and religious zealotry in the Middle East can quickly strike a hotspot from a traveler’s bucket list. Destinations rise, destinations fall, and, as in the case of Colombia’s Tayrona National Park, yesterday’s guerrilla heartland can soon become tomorrow’s Caribbean poster child.
When it comes to travel hype, even something as prosaic as the launch of a budget flight route into Slovenia (RyanAir has proved the master of creating travel markets) or a flashy Gehry-designed museum (think the Guggenheim in Bilbao) can ignite interest. Talk it up enough and travelers will come.
Economic pains are a case in point. Financially savvy consumers have reaped benefits from widespread publicity surrounding the eurozone’s economic calamities. If you do your homework, you can score deep discounts at luxury hotels, not to mention effusive welcomes from open-armed locals keen to reinvigorate tourist regions blighted by recession.
In 2010, Iceland’s much talked-about woes prompted swathes of bargain-hunting tourists to flock to the country, where just a few years before, a basic hotel room would have set you back more than $100. Nowadays, annual visitor rates to Iceland are up some 65 percent and prices have inflated. Killing the goose that lays the golden egg has always been the problem with deal-driven travel destinations.
While there will always be iconic landscapes and cities that reign supreme in the collective traveling dreamscape, the urge to journey beyond clichés looks set to intensify in 2014. No one would argue that the timeless grace of Paris, the glorious mania of Rome, or the primordial wilds of the Serengeti are passé. But the lure of emerging destinations like Cambodia, where history unfolds before your eyes, or the authentic Portuguese city of Porto means that transcendent travel experiences are there for the taking — for now — at a snip of the price.
It’s nice to be wanted. Ecuador plans to court adventure travelers in 2014 by raising its advertising budget to a whopping $150 million and redirecting a few greenbacks from Brazil in the process. For a country the size of Colorado, Ecuador packs a punch. The molecular soup that is the Galapagos archipelago is just the beginning. The Andes rise above shifting landscapes that deliver Amazonian adventures, world-class surfing on virgin beaches, and the cultural enlightenment of Quito and Cuenca.
Travelzoo recently ranked Ecuador as one its top five Wow Deal Destinations for 2014, promising a flurry of adventures under the rubric of “accessible luxury.” Tour companies are tempting mainstream travelers into the fold with excellent package deals. For independent travelers, a midrange hotel costs around $50 per day, while a three-night stay in an upscale jungle lodge is around $250, all inclusive. For the Galapagos, you’ll need to splurge: A tour with an established operator is upwards of $300 per day.
Travelers flock (and for good reason) to the temples of Angkor Wat, but the discovery in June of Phnom Kulem — the archetypal lost world — makes 2014 the perfect time to visit Cambodia. Hope springs that the long-suffering Khmer people have finally put to rest the bloodcurdling legacy of Pol Pot.
While the capital of Phnom Penh still has visible scars, it pulsates with the frenzied energy of a city on the make, a place where upscale restaurants and hotels rub shoulders with pagodas and palaces, and where street life makes for sensational free entertainment. Adventure travelers can explore Chi Pat, the largest remaining rainforest in Southeast Asia, or verdant coastlines where development amounts to nothing more than a cluster of beach shacks. Serious backpackers can have a lot of fun on $30 a day, while a five-star hotel far from Angkor’s maddening crowds is a steal at $100 a night.
India’s popularity among American and European travelers looks set to soar in 2014. The freefall of the Indian rupee has transformed the world’s second fastest-growing economy into one of the most widely Googled holiday destinations. India’s diversity is legendary: snow-capped mountains, exotic wildlife, Hindu temples, kaleidoscopic markets, decaying fortresses, and — not for the faint-hearted — the buzzing megalopolises of Mumbai, Kolkata, and Delhi. The beaches and waterways of low-key Goa and Kerala rank top for good-value family travel, and with new chain hotels breaking ground every day and former Raj palaces reborn as exclusive hotels, the price tag for cultural journeys through the iconic “Golden Triangle” will soon become increasingly competitive.
Nicaragua is riddled with misapprehension, not surprising given that former Sandinista rebel Daniel Ortega reclaimed the presidency in 2006. But with the rising trend of eco-travel, Nicaragua’s time is now. Often evoked as the Costa Rica of yesteryear, offbeat Nicaragua can boast thrilling natural wonders and cultural brio at a fraction of the price.
There are perfect cone volcanoes, crater lakes, cloud forests, Pacific surf breaks, and colonial towns that defy any preconceived notions of civil strife. But Nicaragua’s best-kept secret lies just an hour’s flight from Managua. The Corn Islands are a developers’ dream that the developers haven’t cottoned onto: a Robinson Crusoe fantasia of white sand beaches and turquoise waters, complete with fresh lobster dinners served beneath the stars.
Portugal is Western Europe’s best deal. Historically cast in the role of Spain’s poor relation, Portugal has always gotten flak for being the continent’s underachieving nation. But then came the European economic crisis, and while Spain is still throwing toys out of its pram, Portugal continues to go its own eccentric way with graceful solemnity. While Lisbon’s antiquarian charms are undisputed, it’s the Unesco city of Porto that will steal the limelight in 2014.
Labyrinthine streets strewn with laundry lead to Roman ruins, baroque churches, and the iconic Luis I bridge that arches its back across the fabled Douro. With creative élan and post-modern verve — best witnessed in Rem Koolhaas’s Casa da Música — Porto exemplifies the shifting gravity of European style away from the super-brand cities of London, Paris, and Rome. Sleek boutique hotels are cropping up at a steady clip, sparking a cheap-chic ethos quite befitting Europe’s mood of the moment.
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