Here are Travel PR’s predictions for the hottest destinations of 2013 – with the expert rationale behind these ideas:
North Korea (DPRK)
Reasoning: Whilst beginning to slightly modify its stern image to the outside world, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – or North Korea – still retains an air of individuality and austerity that is so beguiling to the curious traveller. Despite its isolation from the international community, North Korea offers a surprising combination of the ancient and modern against a backdrop of spectacular mountains and beautiful landscapes.
Sample trip: A brand-new, nine-night ‘North Korea – the Last Unknown’ tour visiting the capital Pyongyang, Mt Myohyang, Panmunjom, Kaesong, Wonsan and Mt Kumgang (one night on flight & one in Beijing) costs from £2,295 pp (two sharing) with Voyages Jules Verne (0845 166 7035, www.vjv.com). Price includes flights (Heathrow), UK departure taxes, transfers, full board in DPRK (B&B in China) and the services of guides/local representatives. Departs 13 May & 16 September 2013.
Reasoning: In the wildlife world, Brazil’s Pantanal is the hot destination. Why? Because everyone who’s ticked tiger-watching off their list is now after another elusive feline: the jaguar. And by far the best and most reliable place to watch the cats is Puerto Jofre and the adjacent ‘Jaguar Zone’ on the Pantanal’s Cuiabá River, with 50-100 habituated cats in residence. Wildlife specialist Naturetrek* reports that bookings to Brazil’s Pantanal as a whole have increased six-fold since 2009.
Sample trip: Boasting a 100% sighting success-rate, Naturetrek’s (01962 733 051, www.naturetrek.co.uk) ‘Just Jaguars!’ tour has four remaining departures between June & October 2013 and costs £3,795 pp (no single supplement) including flights (London), transport, ten nights’ full board (four nights in a river-based ‘Jaguar Flotel’) and guiding.
Reasoning: In August 2012, a small group of lion arrived in Malawi’s Majete Wildlife Reserve, capping a remarkable turnaround for the park, which was left ravaged by poachers only a decade ago. Overseen today by the philanthropic African Parks network, Majete is now Malawi’s only Big Five reserve or park, and boasts, in Mkulumadzi, one of the country’s most stylish lodges. Throw in the new Tongole camp further north, plus Lake Malawi’s chic beach lodges, and Malawi’s set to become the hottest safari destination around.
Sample trip: Expert Africa* (020 8232 9777, www.expertafrica.com) offers a 12-day itinerary combining Mkulumadzi and Pumulani (by Lake Malawi) from £3,061 pp (two sharing), including overnight flights (London), transfers, nine nights’ full board, all safari activities and some watersports in Majete.
Reasoning: On 4 December, Aer Europa launches new flights from Gatwick, via Madrid, to Santa Cruz in Bolivia. Visit this colossal and landlocked country with its staggering scenery, from Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats, to the unusual Red and Green Lagoons, and the intensely biodiverse Madidi National Park. Absorb the rich and colourful folklore of a population that is 60% indigenous (Quechua, Aymara and Guarani), spend time at the pre-Inca site of Tiwanaku, dating from 1500 BC, and travel high into the Andes.
Sample trip: Sunvil Traveller* (020 8758 4774, www.sunvil.co.uk) offers a ten-night Essential Bolivia itinerary from £3,060 pp (two sharing) including flights (Gatwick), some meals, all transfers and private fully-guided excursions.
Reasoning: 2013 will provide the best Northern Lights-viewing opportunity in a decade, but that means everyone’ll be going, and space will be hard to come by. Step forward, then, one of Lapland’s most remote spots. Truly far-flung, the Finnish Lapland town of Kilpisjärvi sits by a three-country border with Norway and Sweden and boasts remarkably regular Aurora Borealis sightings. Visitors can get there via the designated ‘Northern Lights Route’ from Muonio, too.
Sample trip: New for 2013, The Aurora Zone’s (01670 785 012, www.theaurorazone.com) seven-night trip to Kilpisjärvi and Muonio costs £1,995 pp (two sharing) including flights (Heathrow), transfers, full board and activities such as cross-country skiing and ‘Aurora-hunts’ by snowmobile.
St Vincent & The Grenadines
Reasoning: “A major game-changer”. That’s what the CEO of the St. Vincent & the Grenadines Tourism Authority calls the forthcoming Argyle Airport. Costing $250 million, the terminal will be able to handle 1.5m annual passengers, five times as many as the islands’ existing international airport, when it opens in November 2013. With direct flights from Gatwick expected, would-be visitors have two options: go in advance before the masses arrive, or wait until St Vincent becomes the latest Caribbean paradise du jour.
Sample trip: Holidays Please (0844 463 2799, www.holidaysplease.co.uk) offers a seven-night stay at Palm Island from £1,965 pp (two sharing) in 2013, including scheduled flights (Gatwick via Barbados), transfers, all-inclusive accommodation and use of a private lounge at Gatwick.
Reasoning: Given the Royal seal of approval by Prince Charles, who owns property there, Romania has been referred to as ‘Europe’s last great wilderness’. Step back in time to a bygone age, with farmers still working their fields with horses and drawing water from picture-postcard wells. Stay in locally-owned accommodation that, whilst adapted to ‘western’ standards, still retains its original character. But visit soon, while visitor numbers are still relatively low and the country’s authentic charms remain intact.
Sample trip: A 12-night Romania – Life as it used to be escorted tour costs £2,195 pp (two sharing) with Ffestiniog Travel* (01766 772030, www.ffestiniogtravel.com). Price includes flights (London), first-class rail travel within Romania (where available), B&B, seven lunches and three evening meals, transfers, excursions and the services of a tour leader, plus a local professional Romanian guide. Departs 12 May, 2013.
Costa Alentejana, Portugal
Reasoning: The rural Alentejo region produces 46% of Portugal’s wine – and it’s starting to be recognised as a rising star to oenophiles in the know. The coastal part, the Costa Alentejana, lesser-known for its vinotourism than for its glorious beaches and craggy coves, is home to a number of hidden yet high-end vineyards. Visit the vast and sustainability-focused Herdade da Comporta, with high-quality wines alongside community-based initiatives – surprisingly it also produces tonnes of rice from its acres of rice fields each year – or the Herdade do Portocarro, which will launch distribution of its best wines in the UK later in 2012.
Sample trip: Sunvil Discovery* (020 8758 4722, www.sunvil.co.uk) offers a stay at the eco-friendly Aqualuz Resort, on the coast, from £808 pp (two sharing a spacious apartment suite) including seven nights’ B&B, flights (London) and car hire.
*This company is an AITO member. AITO is the Association of Independent Tour Operators: around 120 specialist travel companies providing an unrivalled collection of holiday ideas that cover every corner of the world. Consumers booking with AITO can be assured of high-quality holidays and excellent personal service. Visit www.aito.com for further information.