Travel has been conspicuously absent from most of our lives during 2020. Often taken for granted as a past time that was so ingrained it would never be eradicated from our lifestyles, we suffered a collective sadness as global travel became fraught with difficulties and unattainable for many. It feels like an age since we were able to enjoy the exhilaration of stepping off a plane in a new country, unsure of what the next few days will bring. However, the new year brings new hope for renewed opportunities for travel worldwide. 2020 has shown that travel is greater than simply a cliché-ridden collection of box-ticking and Instagram opportunities. It’s so much more! This year we’ve come to appreciate travel in a way that we had forgotten, as food for the soul. Travel inspires, nourishes and replenishes us, and we all need it now more than ever.
Those who casually dismissed travel opportunities with a flippant “I’ll get around to it one day” will be looking to 2021 with a hunger to escape our own corners of the world for new adventures. The appetite for new experiences, seeing new places, meeting new people is now ready to be satisfied. There’s a world of beautiful beaches, epic mountain ranges, vibrant cities, delightful villages and luscious landscapes just waiting to be explored.
This is why in partnership with our very own luxury travel awards, the DeLuxe Travel Awards, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 destinations across the globe that are sure to reignite your dormant wanderlust and provide you with some travel inspiration for your next destination.
10. Costa Rica
Costa Rica has long held a special place in the eco-travellers’ hearts and still commands its place at the top of the pile for a truly breath-taking destination.
From the majestic Volcano Arenal set in misty cloud forests overflowing with wildlife to the beautiful palm-fringed beaches with turtles laying eggs to the sounds of macaws and howler monkeys, Costa Rica is a sustainable tourism haven. Often regarded as one of the ‘greenest’ countries in the world when it comes to tourism, there are very few places where the phrase “leave only footprints” is more applicable.
Costa Rica has the wonderful luxury of being flanked by both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, whilst being small enough to allow visitors the opportunity to visit both coasts in one stay without having to take a month off. The country is home to more than 6% of the world’s biodiversity – a figure that is all the more incredible when you consider that this is more than Europe and the USA combined. But it is the sensitive and thoughtful manner in which Costa Rica treats this gift that allows the wildlife and land to flourish, with the country on track to become the first carbon-neutral country in the world by 2050 and over 95% of its electricity coming from sustainable sources.
There is no right or wrong way to ‘do’ Costa Rica, but some of the highlights include the Monteverde Cloud Forest where you can stroll (or zip wire) through the forest on suspended platforms, keeping an eye out for toucans and monkeys. The awe-inspiring Osa Peninsula, home to Corcovado National Park is one for wildlife lovers too, brimming with tapirs, red-eyed tree frogs, armadillos, kinkajous and the elusive jaguar. For those who want to experience something truly unique, in the North, you can be welcomed in by Costa Rica’s oldest indigenous tribe, the Maleku, who offer tours and hikes focusing on their way of life.
It’s hard to think of a destination that deftly balances luxury, culture and wildlife better than Costa Rica. Almost anything you can imagine is possible here – from kayaking mangroves with caimans, walking in amongst the jungle canopy as sloths dangle down to greet you, to lounging in 5-star resorts on idyllic beaches – there truly is something for everyone.
Don’t Miss: There is honestly so much to see and do in Costa Rica that a tour is really your best option, but make sure it includes Monteverde Cloud Forest and at least one of the National Parks, such as Corcovado, to try and spot Jaguars and Costa Rica’s iconic tree frogs.
Where to Stay: Origins Lodge in the North is truly breath-taking. Guests get to sleep and relax in chic bungalows with fire-heated hot tubs overlooking Lake Nicaragua and the forests below. You can also enjoy a spa, feast on haute cuisine and even take guided tours with a local expert.
When someone tells you they’re going on safari, the default images are of Kruger in South Africa and Kenya, but amongst the travellers in the know, Botswana has quietly built up a reputation as one of the best safari destinations in the world. So, if you’ve only got time for one safari in 2021, Botswana should be at the top of your list.
It is famous for the stunning Okavango Delta, a Unesco World Heritage site known for its sprawling grassy plains, which flood seasonally, transforming the area into a spectacular and lush animal habitat where dugout canoes meander down the waterways past hippos, elephants and crocodiles. The Moremi Game Reserve, which occupies the east and central areas of the region, allow for sightings of some of the mightiest and most impressive of the dry land wildlife including lions, leopards, giraffes and rhinos.
What makes Botswana different from its safari counterparts is that there are no fences in sight, allowing the animals roam free. And whilst this may lead to an increased amount of patience required to view your desired animals, the rewards will be miraculous. What’s more, the time spent waiting for wildlife can provide you with a great excuse for a drink in the mesmeric landscapes of wide-open plains and lush greenery. The combination of surroundings, sightings and the generous and welcoming people of Botswana makes for a safari destination you won’t want to miss.
Don’t Miss: Take a water safari and enjoy the Okavango Delta’s abundance of wildlife from a different angle as you meander down the river, winding your way past crocodiles while watching elephants.
Where to Stay: In Botswana, it simply has to be a luxury tent and there are many to choose from! Our picks would be either Zafara Camp, which features luxury tents with stunning views of Zibadianja Lagoon, private plunge pools and excellent game viewing, or Abu Camp, which offer five-star tents and a plunge pool, game drives and water-based safaris. Once there, you can also walk through the bush alongside elephants.
The rise in popularity of the Adriatic regions of Europe has been widely acknowledged and for years, the default trip was to either Italy or, perhaps more recently, Croatia – with its rich history and stunning Dalmatian coast beaches. However, travellers are starting to realise that maybe there are other wonders to enjoy in the area and that the crowded streets of Dubrovnik can be replaced with something new, but equally as beautiful. Step forward Slovenia.
Bordering both Italy and Croatia but leading the way in the area with sustainable tourism, Slovenia is now rivalling places like Costa Rica with its green initiatives. The capital, Ljubljana, is not only a blend of brightly coloured buildings and history, but it’s also known as Europe’s Green Capital. The rest of the country is visually akin to walking around in a postcard, with snow-capped peaks footed by brilliant turquoise rivers and lakes which are flanked by verdant green fields. Nowhere is this more evident than Lake Bled, where a picturesque red-topped church sits on a small island in the middle of one of the most peaceful and picturesque bodies of water in Europe.
Slovenia has benefitted not only from tourists being pulled north and south to its busier neighbours but also from a boom in the foodie culture within the country, which is placing it front and centre on many gastronomy enthusiasts’ radar.
It’s not just the views and food that are beckoning visitors from across the globe, Slovenia is home to a raft of activities and unique experiences, none more so than acclaimed Michelin-starred restaurant Pikol’s floating glamping hotel: Pikol Lake Village, located among the vineyards of Vipava Valley, where you can enjoy the best Slovenia has to offer and sleep under the stars to cap it all off.
Don’t Miss: Lake Bled remains the most popular destination but for good reason. Take a boat or paddle board out and enjoy the serenity and the scenery.
Where to stay: Hotel Grad Otočec with its castle turrets set on a small islet in the Krka River is a magical, romantic getaway.
7. Pulau Merah, Java
If there’s one group of travellers who seem to be able to pick phenomenal destinations time after time in pursuit of their hobby, it’s surfers. Among some of the places they can lay claim to putting on the travel map include Fiji, Tahiti, Costa Rica, Hawaii and of course, Indonesia, which has long been a mecca for surfers. Although surfers hunt the remote, empty, tropical waves and long to remain off the beaten track, they also have a knack of discovering some of the most beautiful destinations in the world, and not just for surfing. It seems that where surfers go, one of the best eco-tourism follows, and this is the case with the stunning island of Pulau Merah – or the Red Island as it’s affectionately known. Fringed with deserted idyllic stretches of sandy beaches and tropical reefs with the Javan Jungle spilling onto its shores, the island resembles true paradise.
This is the destination for the more intrepid traveller who is more at home in a rustic home-stay than a five-star resort, but some boutique hotels are starting to appear. The fishing village of Pancer is a great base to submerge yourself in the local Javan way of life. And it’s not just beaches and the waves that make this such a unique and special destination either. There’s an abundance of Indonesian culture to enjoy – whether it’s hiking to the hidden waterfalls and beauty spots, or indulging your soul with a visit to the beautiful Pura Tawang Alun temple. We’d recommend Pulau Merah before everyone else does.
6. Kangaroo Island, Australia
Australia has seen its share of troubles in the year 2020. It feels like a lifetime ago when the January wildfires tore through the country, with Kangaroo Island being one of the worst-hit; seeing an unfathomable 210,000 hectares of land burnt. This is the equivalent to nearly half of the island. But as the island bounces back, its beauty and allure remain.
The island itself is a wonderful destination for wilderness and wildlife fans alike. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped into an ocean lined, limestone-cragged zoo on arrival, with the island teeming with dolphins, seals, birds, koalas slowly munching eucalyptus leaves and of course – kangaroos. The island itself was rustic and rural, even prior to the bush fires and this is where its charm lies. Kangaroo Island harks back to the Australia of the past – before the gaudy skyscrapers of the Gold Coast came to represent the modern version of a country that is best seen in this arena: unspoilt and dazzling. For foodies, the island offers a rich and varied range of award-winning local wines and produce which have seen visitors flock to its farmers’ markets.
There are a number of local guided wildlife tours and for the more intrepid travellers, there’s even a five-day hike through the magnificent Flinders Chase National Park, which sees visitors wind their way through 61km of stunning sugar gum forest landscape, with camping provided. Although the hike is temporarily closed due to the wildfire damage, work is ongoing to build a series of new eco-lodges ready for a reopening. Wilderness at its best!
Well known for its major cities like Dubai, the United Arab Emirates was the most searched for destination for 2021, and with good reason. Naysayers may point to the lack of perceived quiet or exploration, but for those who have been and stepped away from the bright lights of Dubai, there is an abundance of wonders to witness.
Made up of seven emirate states, the common selling point is that they all enjoy hour upon hour of winter sun, allowing even the most committed of sunbathers to achieve their perfect bronzed look. Dubai, by far the most famous destination in the UAE, is notorious for its blend of futuristic, towering skyscrapers, never-ending shopping malls, fringed with miles of sandy beaches, as well as one of the world’s most recognisable buildings – Burj Khalifah.
But the popularity of the UAE lies not just in the immaculately conceived city of Dubai. The other six emirates have their own individual charms that deserve the attention of visitors. What was not so long ago a sea of endless dunes and crumbling ancient forts is now a traveller’s delight. You can enjoy a desert safari or visit the wonderful Jebel Jais Mountain range on the passage to Ras Al Khaimah – the northernmost emirate which offers tourists ancient museums, mosques, beautiful coastline and the splendid Dhayah Fort mountaintop. Fujairah also has some incredible snorkelling spots for the more adventurous beachgoers, while for those looking for sanctity and peace, a visit to the breath-taking Sheikh-Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi is a once in a lifetime experience.
Simply put, a visit to the UAE really shouldn’t be limited just to Dubai, there’s a real-world of wonder in this magical desert destination.
Don’t Miss: Sheikh-Zayed Mosque, for its sheer awe-inspiring architecture and atmosphere.
4. Isle of Mull, Scotland
Although there is often the urge to travel to warmer climes when you’re looking for your next destination, sometimes it is the ones without the guaranteed sunshine that give you the greatest experiences. Only accessible by ferry, the Isle of Mull is a small island on the Inner Hebrides just off Scotland which offers a truly authentic and invigorating experience.
The island itself comprises some of the most varied and stunning scenery in the whole of Scotland. With the central Monroe, Ben More and its craggy ridges in the mid-west of the island towering over winding coastal roads edged with thick kelp where you can spot seals, otters and a vast array of birds, the island offers so much considering its small landmass. For fans of walking and those who seek rugged adventure, there’s stunning waterfall scrambles, kayaking, boating, wild-swimming in lochs – all in the shadows of ancient castles and white-sand beaches that wouldn’t be out of place in the Caribbean.
Despite its small population, Mull has a truly welcoming and bustling feel in the small enclaves of villages. The island’s colourful capital, Tobermory, is where local fishermen continue to ply their trade and local whisky distilleries and smokehouses produce some fine drink and cuisine for weary explorers fresh from a day out at sea, whale-watching or visiting the ancient and beautiful isle of Iona just off the southern tip of the island.
Mull feels like a trip back in time, before buildings stretched to the sky, and the world felt so crowded. It’s a place where eagles soar in the sky and the rugged wilderness feels like it could reclaim the island for itself at any time.
Don’t Miss: Take a whale-watching boat trip from Tobermory around the island to Staffa and Iona.
Where to stay: For the adventurous, we recommend the wild camping in Mull. Waking up on the shores of the lochs as otters play in the kelp is an unbeatable experience. Or for a little more luxury, head to Glengorm Castle, just above Tobermory.
Although you may question why such a well-known destination would feature again in a list with the top 10 travel destinations for 2021, there can be no doubt that the beauty and relaxation of the Maldives is more urgently needed than ever before. After such a tumultuous year, the unique island perfection of the Maldives is one that must be enjoyed to be believed. It is one of the few places on the globe where the multitude of photographs never do it justice – there is simply no place on Earth that is more tranquil and romantic.
The Maldives is likely once more to claim its crown as the most luxurious escape destination in the world as many travellers seek to escape to paradise. But to pigeon-hole this wondrous Indian Ocean archipelago as a place to simply lie on a sunbed under a palm tree, waiting for cocktails and private dining under the stars will be to do it a disservice. The Maldives has so much more to offer than simply the over-water bungalows and pristine beaches. It’s now firmly planted itself among the world’s premier diving, surfing and paddle-boarding destinations and it’s one of the few places where all ages can snorkel amongst some of the most colourful and magnificent sea creatures – safely and just yards from your resort.
The resorts in the Maldives have been fastidious in their COVID-safe travel preparations and the feeling of safety on the islands is all but guaranteed. There is also a plethora of new luxury resorts opening and many of the existing ones have committed to refurbishments, so you know that the level of quality and service will be second to none. There is also very little more awesome than arriving at your luxury resort in the middle of a clear turquoise ocean by seaplane or boat. Even after all these years, the Maldives still guarantees a simply unforgettable experience.
Don’t Miss: Snorkelling with manta rays and whale sharks. A once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Where to Stay: Velaa Private Island Resort – winner of our Luxury Resort of the Year Award in the Deluxe Travel Awards and a truly wonderful resort in paradise.
Not always the first thought for travellers and holiday-goers, but for adventure lovers – the effort will be more than worth the reward. For years, during the Taliban rule and fear-inducing tales have prevented Pakistan from truly benefitting from tourism as only the foolhardy dared to venture. But this is a country of ancient valleys, vast mountain ranges, soaring over the green fields and rich with history and culture.
Since the election of Imran Khan who has been a proponent of increased tourism, the relaxing of visa restrictions among other initiatives is allowing more visitors to enjoy all this extraordinary country has to offer. Pakistan feels borderline schizophrenic in the best way possible – with the dizzying, bustling streets of Lahore, where you can witness over 100,000 worshippers stream into the stunning 17th-century Badshahi Mosque giving way to exquisite, almost empty scenery in areas like the Shandur Pass and the breath-taking Karakoram mountain range, home to the world’s second-highest mountain, K2.
Pakistan is such an amazing country that planning your trip could feel a little daunting. With so many wonders to see – from hiking the popular but stunning Fairy Trail to the foot of the sacred Nanga Parbat Mountain, to the ancient and deserted cylinders of the Derawar Fort, set deep in Punjab, 130km south of the city of Bahawalpur or paddling a colourful rustic boat on Saiful Muluk Lake, which sits in a valley above Narran, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and glaciers – there are so many spectacles to enjoy you’ll wonder why this is only your first time there.
There are few more astonishing places in the world to visit in 2021, and although it is still classed as a high-risk destination by some, once you find yourself immersed in the Mughal architecture across the land or amongst the Kalash of the Hindu Kush, you will be reminded what the essence of travel is really about.
Don’t Miss: Trek the Fairy Trail to Nanga Parbat as part of the majestic Karakoram Highway.
Where to Stay: Greenland Fairy Meadow Resort – stop off on the Karakoram highway and enjoy the spectacle and the serenity of a truly magical location.
1. Siargao Island, Phillipines
If you’re looking for a slice of relatively undiscovered tropical paradise, look no further than the exquisite Siargao Island in the Philippines. Another coconut palm swathed travel discovery that owes much of its place in our list to the intrepid surfers, who seem to have an unnerving ability to uncover gems across the globe, Siargao is a must for those looking for a slice of heaven on Earth. Known as the surfing capital of the Philippines, Siargao was voted Best Island in the World by readers of Conde Nast Traveller magazine in 2019 and for good reason.
Home to the aptly named Cloud 9 surf spot, that description could easily be applied to the rest of this visually mesmerising laidback island. With its pristine white-sand beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters, waterfalls, natural lagoons, caves, and peppered with small, picturesque islands just off its shoreline complete with colourful coral reefs teeming with rainbow sea creatures, Siargao really feels like paradise.
While surfers may be thanked for putting Siargao on the travel map, this lovely island also features a host of other delights for all tourists, including world-class snorkelling and diving in the crystal waters and delicious local and international cuisine for every discerning traveller’s palate. The island has more in common with Pulau Merah in Java than the five-star decadence of the Maldives, but there is a stream of cool, independent new hotels and businesses, although, in keeping with the trend du jour, they are working hard to retain a sensitive and sustainable approach. Popular areas include General Luna and Del Carmen which has the beautiful Sugba Lagoon nearby (popular with kayakers and paddleboarders), both showcasing the very best of sustainable tourism.
Adventurous travellers will rejoice in casting their eyes across a sea of coconut trees – truly a miraculous sight – and visiting the rock pools at Magpupungko. And if surfing, sailing, kayaking, sightseeing and enjoying local cuisine isn’t enough, for a truly special experience, catch a boat out to the island of Bucas Grande to swim with stingless jellyfish.