When I was sixteen, I made a pledge to myself to visit at least one new country every year. It’s the first day of 2010, a great day to sit down quietly and make some exciting plans for the new year. Which countries would I like to visit this year? My wish list is really long and consists of places I’ve been to before and some I’ve yet to visit. I had a long stare at my list and picked ten countries for a variety of reasons:
1. Canada The Winter Olympics will be held in Vancouver in February, which should ensure a blaze of publicity and a barrage of visitors. Aside from that, Vancouver is a sure bet for stunning sea and mountain scenery, gorgeous food and a laid-back lifestyle. However, Canada offers so much more – from the bustling metropoles of Toronto and Montreal to the desolate ice of Nunavut to the rugged coast of Nova Scotia.
2. China Another big event that will be a crowd-puller: the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai. The organisers expect 70 million visitors!! China, of course, has so many other must-see attractions, from the Great Wall to the Li River; the Forbidden City in Beijing to the terracotta soldiers in Xi’An; and the towering Himalayas in Tibet to the desolate landscapes of the Gobi desert.
3. South Africa The FIFA World Cup is the second largest sporting in the world after the Summer Olympics. This will be South Africa’s ultimate opportunity to shine, and I’m confident they will. My favourite place is Cape Town (and the Western Cape province). Spectacular scenery, fine food and wines, and magnificent flora and fauna are just some of the things any visitor can expect in this amazing province. I want to go back there!
4. Antarctica Tourist numbers showed a significant increase in 2008-2009 and I expect it to be the same story in 2010. Its ‘last frontier’ image draws an increasing number of cruise liners packed with tourists. I wish I’ll be on one of those ships this year!
5. Iceland This country was for many years branded as a pricey destination (and for good reason!). That all changed in 2008 when the financial crisis resulted in a near-bankruptcy. As a consequence, it is now a lot more affordable to explore the pristine natural treasures of Iceland. The surreal landscapes and mind-blowing natural wonders certainly warrant a visit. And I wouldn’t mind another soak in the Blue Lagoon!
6. Mexico The staggering diversity of ecological and archeological sites, combined with blindingly-white beaches, excellent cuisine and ditto hotels make Mexico a very attractive holiday destination. The swine flu and economic crisis severely damaged the country’s tourism industry in 2009. As the real danger of swine flu dissipates and the global economy recovers, I hope tourists will once again turn their attention to this magnificent country. I hear the gorgeous beaches of the Riviera Maya calling my name…
7. Bhutan This tiny Himalayan kingdom is still relatively isolated despite its huge tourism potential, and that aspect makes it a precious gem. Bhutan is a country of stunning contrasts: rustic villages dot the verdant valleys while the imposing snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas tower high above. Bhutan is unique in the world as it adheres to a concept called ‘Gross National Happiness’ (GNH). Coined by the former king as an alternative model to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), GNH stresses a balance between material and spiritual development. GNH may be a model that is difficult, maybe even impossible, to quantify but Bhutan often ranks as one of the ‘happiest countries in the world’.
The current financial and economic malaise provides us with an opportunity to take stock, reflect and perhaps even re-invent ourselves in time for the expected upturn in 2010. What better way than to do it in Bhutan. The mighty Himalayas will humble any soul while the many serene spots are perfect to meditate, reflect and re-discover our balance.
8. Argentina Ahhh…. Buenos Aires. I fell in love with the city during that unforgettable Sunday in San Telmo. It’s one of the most fascinating cities I’ve ever visited. The evening I danced the tango (or something like it) will stay in my memory forever. Then there’s the expansive Pampas, the stunning Iguazu Falls, the beautiful city of Salta, the mind-blowing nature of Patagonia and the Valdes Peninsula, and the awesome food and wines in Mendoza.
9. Mozambique I’m betting that Mozambique will have its big break this year, what with the FIFA World Cup being hosted in neighbouring South Africa. The country is still relatively uncommercialised and there are few tourists. Think private safaris, virgin tropical beaches, colourful towns and magnificent dive spots.
10. Japan This is Visit Japan Year so there will be tonnes of activities to showcase the best this wonderful country has to offer. Japan is certainly one of my favourite countries in Asia. High-tech Tokyo is one of my favourite cities, but there’s also the historic city of Kyoto, gorgeous Mount Fuji, the temple towns of Nikko and Kamakura, and unspoilt Hokkaido. Then there’s the awesome food and the fabulous onsen (hot springs)… excellent ingredients for a typical velvet escape!