It’s traditional at the start of the New Year for travel guides to start touting their lists of the best places to go and there will be many contenders for the list of top countries of 2013. I love these lists because there are always some surprising new entries, or places you expect to be there, not included. So, having perused and analyzed a number of such lists, I have compiled my selection of top countries of 2013.
1. South Korea
Quietly home to some of the world’s most spectacular outdoor scenes, peeled right from the pages of National Geographic, South Korea is going to be one of the top countries of 2013. The traveler’s love affair with South East Asia is undiminished, but Thailand is becoming a bit of a ‘been there, done that’ destination now; South Korea could take its place. A hiker and nature lover’s paradise, its reign of anonymity is about to come to an abrupt halt, as 2013 is the year for the country to host some of the biggest sporting events all around – like the Special Winter Olympics.
2. The Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands are a nature lover’s paradise set in the South Pacific. Rugged rainforest carpeted mountain peaks, mesmerizing azure waters, cultural and historical mystery, make this destination a force to be reckoned with. Emphasis is on eco-tourism and there’s a distinct lack of mass commercialization. The Islands are also fast rising the ranks of the best diving and snorkeling spots.
Although it is somewhat common knowledge about the delights that Iceland have to offer, because of its affordability, it is now one of the most accessible countries to visit in 2013. And before you turn your nose up at what may seem like an odd choice, once you stop for just a minute, you will find yourself falling hard and fast for this incredibly beautiful and unique country. Reykjavik, the capital, also happens to be one of the most happening cities in Europe.
4. Sri Lanka
For one of the best value for money holiday destinations for 2013, Sri Lanka is hard to beat. Surviving civil war and tsunamis, Sri Lanka is truly in a class of its own. Be enveloped by excited and happy locals, drink your body weight in tea, bask on the cashmere, white sands of some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, explore the ancient temples, hike the rainforests and never look back.
For too long, a few countries have dominated the tourism scene in Africa (Kenya, Morocco, Tunisia, the Gambia and South Africa), but as the developing nations emerge, and their tourist infrastructure develops, the options are brilliant. Malawi definitely deserves its billing as one of the top places to visit in 2013. There are parks and reserves to see the Big 5 animals of Africa and Lake Malawi is a veritable playground with beaches, water sports and islands to explore. The people are truly welcoming and you’re guaranteed the warmest smiles anywhere on the continent.
Shy and spectacularly beautiful, this Adriatic coastal hideaway is practically an undiscovered gem, but not for long. Dipped in romance and steeped in a mysterious and exotic history, combined with a coveted Mediterranean climate and idyllic island getaway feel, Montenegro is one of the best European destinations for 2013. The Bay of Kotor is incredibly beautiful and hikers will find plenty of trails to discover the glorious countryside.
The Ecuador Tourist Board are fully expecting their country to be one the 2013 top destinations. Major work is forging ahead on upgrading the railway system and undoubtedly, when the new stretch connecting Cotopaxi and the Nariz del Diablo, which will be the steepest railway in the western world (and promised to be hair-raising), is open for business, it will surely attract more than just those intrepid trekkers who make their way to Ecuador on an extended tour of South America. Here you can check out the Amazon Forest after breakfast, glide through the pristine waters around the Galapagos Islands by lunch and be sipping on one of many mojitos by nightfall.
Slovakia is absolutely a law unto itself in terms of sheer beauty and charisma. Like a sensual woman, the lure for this effervescent central European state is irresistible, and people from around the world are scrambling to get their slice of delight. Feast on the local Bryndzové halušky (dumplings and sheep cheese) washed down with generous helpings of Borovička (gin) while exploring castles, caves and medieval villages.
9. Dominican Republic
Every year, all the gorgeous islands of the Caribbean fight for their place among the elite destinations. With a massive boost in tourism over the past calendar year, this small slice of tropical heaven is buzzing with excitement. The island has all the attributes of a top Caribbean destination and it's being made more accessible as airlines add it to their routes, and cruise ships add it to their docking itineraries. If airlines and cruise lines are increasing, they must know it’s among the best countries to visit in 2013.
Having abolished visa requirements for 44 Western countries, the former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan is definitely leading the game for best Central Asia countries for 2013. Wild and rugged, offering some of the best hiking in the world, the remote areas are surprisingly accessible thanks to investment in tourist infrastructure. The country offers an absolutely charming mix of Soviet time capsule and nomadic culture, but it is fast emerging into the 21st century; best visit before it changes too much.
Those are my tips for the top countries to visit in 2013. Maybe you agree because you’ve already experienced some of them? Or maybe you think there’s a country I’ve overlooked. I’d love to hear from you.