With 2016 drawing to a close, travellers everywhere are asking themselves one question: where to go in 2017? Luckily, there’s no lack of suggestions: there are “top 10” lists everywhere. But one of the most high-profile lists comes from Lonely Planet, the authoritative travel guide publisher. And gratifyingly, the country that tops its list is Canada, my home and native land.
Aside from Canada, however, Lonely Planet’s recommendations circle the globe, touching some countries that are household names and others that aren’t even in the neighbourhood. In some cases the attraction is an event scheduled for 2017; in others, new developments that have made the country a better place to visit. And in one or two cases, LP says it’s time to see the country before modernization changes it forever.
I’ve been to Lonely Planet’s top five countries, so I can add a little insight into what they’re like. As for the other five, they venture into some fairly rugged territory. So if they’re a bridge too far for you, I have some baby boomer-friendly suggestions for alternative places to put on your 2017 list.
So here’s where to go in 2017, according to Lonely Planet, with notes from someone who’s been there (and in one case, lives there).
The Great White North takes top spot in Lonely Planet’s list, and not just because it consistently ranks among the most livable countries on earth. Next year will be our 150th birthday, with celebrations planned all over the country: stay tuned. LP awards marks for our “energetic new leader Justin Trudeau” and our dynamic cities, but it also notes that the weak Canadian dollar makes the whole country a good value. My recommendations: don’t miss historic Quebec City, Toronto in mid-summer, and Vancouver if you’re headed west. And the Canada Day celebrations on July 1 should be a doozy; Ottawa will be the epicentre
Most people still think of Colombia as a haven of drug dealers and armed insurgents. But the country has calmed down in recent years, and these days it’s a good place to visit. LP notes “the country’s mix of vibrant culture, nature and hospitality,” and the upcoming visit of Pope Francis, the first papal visit in 30 years. I’d add Colombia’s amazing diversity, from the Caribbean vibe of Cartagena to the urbane charm of Medellin to the Amazon River and forests full of exotic birds and animals. I’ve been to Columbia, and I’d go back.
Another country with a birthday to celebrate, Finland celebrates 100 years of independence in 2017 (though with Russia again in the mood to grab territory, I’d be worried). In any case, LP expects “everything from al fresco concerts and communal culinary experiences to sauna evenings” as the Finns pull out all the stops. I’ve only seen Helsinki (photo at top), but I’d love to spend a few days in that shining city, with pedestrian malls and public art at every turn. Check out the waterfront market for fresh berries and reindeer skins. Finland is a great place to go in 2017, even if only to see the midnight sun on midsummer’s eve.
As LP says, this is one of the few parts of the Caribbean that’s still pretty close to its natural state. A lack of tourist-ready beaches has saved it from the development that has transformed most Caribbean islands, although the first major-league resorts are expected in 2018. That means now is the time to visit, and enjoy Dominica’s clear water, soaring mountains and green rainforests. Highlights include Morne Trois Pitons National Park and Emerald Pool, a little glimpse of paradise where water pours down through the greenery into a gem-like pool (right). Dominica is also the Caribbean’s spice island, so get ready for some tasty food.
This is a call to arms for those who love to travel and want to help their fellow man. Nepal was hit with devastating earthquakes in 2015, and sustained major damage. But LP notes that many of its historic sites are intact or reparable, and most of its famous hiking trails are still open for trekking. A return of tourists – and tourist dollars – is just what the country needs to help it rebuild. And if you thought Nepal was only for mountain climbers, think again: a visit to Kathmandu is like a trip to another world. And I had a great time at a jungle camp in the southern Terai region, where you can see wildlife including rhinos and tigers.
Now for Lonely Planet’s “other” five ideas for where to go in 2017. These ones get a little more esoteric, and in one case a little pricey. So in each case I’ve offered an alternative that might be a little more baby boomer-friendly, both geographically and in terms of safety and interest
First, let’s dismiss a common misconception: Bermuda isn’t a Caribbean island. As Bermuda natives quickly informed me in the comments to this post, the island is actually 1,050 kilometres off the coast of North Carolina. LP calls it “a bit of Britain mixed with island flair”. As well, it notes that in June, Bermuda will host the America’s Cup yachting race, so there’ll be a lot of excitement. What it doesn’t mention is that Hamilton, Bermuda is known as one of the world’s most expensive cities.
My alternative: Cuba Bermuda is close to eastern North America, true. But if you’re looking for some island life at a better price, try Cuba, which is just off the tip of Florida. As far as we know, the clock is still ticking until the onslaught of U.S. tourists hits the island, so now’s a good time to see the country as it is, in all its quirky charm. Cuba is still a budget getaway for Canadians, and these days Americans can find tours and cruises that get them entry as part of an educational or charitable project. Don’t wait – this is a great place to go in 2017.
This is a country I’ve always wanted to visit, to see the rugged Mongolian horsemen and visit their yurts out on the windswept tundra. But LP says it’s the bright lights of UlaanBaatar, the country’s capital, that are attracting tourists these days. There’s a brand new international airport and a raft of new skyscrapers, including a $500-million Shangri-La complex with a 290-room hotel, set to open in 2017. As well, a new road links the city to Lake Khövsgöl, “the Blue Pearl of Asia”.
My alternative: Peru Let’s face it, Mongolia is a long way off, and most travellers are nervous about even visiting China, next door. If you want a spectacular, windswept place to go in 2017, my pick is Peru. The country has an amazing spectrum of great things to see, from the iconic Machu Picchu to the high mountain plains to Lake Titicaca, where the indigenous Uro people live on floating reed islands. The Pacific coast, the Colca Canyon, the Andes: Peru is a sight to behold. As well, there are good hotels, and prices are reasonable. If you’re looking for a spectacular place to go in 2017, this is it.
This Arab country, bordering places like Saudi Arabia and Yemen, may be the Rodney Dangerfield of the Middle East: it rarely gets mentioned among the high-powered oil states around it. LP recommends it as a way to see a little of the real Arabia, less distorted by conspicuous wealth as its neighbours. Still, while Oman’s natural spaces are more pristine, there’s a new wave of development coming, including glitzy, big-name hotels and a $120-million theme park.
My alternative: Croatia
If you’re looking for someplace that’s a bit off the regular tourist track and has a lot to offer, consider Croatia. It’s becoming famous for its popular Adriatic ports — places like the renaissance city of Dubrovnik, setting for the Game of Thrones series, and Split, with its ancient Roman palace. But it also has natural wonders, like the amazing Plitvice Lakes; the country has eight national parks. And if you just want to relax and have a few beers on a patio, it’s hard to beat the capital city, Zagreb, which is sometimes called “Europe’s living room”.
While most of Southeast Asia has been caught up in the wave of modernization, Myanmar – or Burma, as we used to call it – has been trapped in past by a regressive military government. Now, with the country’s first elected government in a half-century, it’s becoming open to the world. LP touts it as a chance to see “a vanishing Asia, where the difficulties of travel are part of the appeal”. Friends who’ve been there say it is indeed a window on the Asia of old, with men in sarongs and wandering monks in the streets. Best of all, it’s right next door to the bustling tourist centres of Thailand.
My alternative: Indonesia Seeing Myanmar at this point in its history would be a memorable trip, for sure. But if you’re not quite that brave, I’d suggest Indonesia – a true Asian experience, with amazing sights and great places to sit back and relax under a palm tree. Every part of the archipelago has its own culture, from Sumatra and Java in the west to Bali and Lombok in the east. There are palaces, temples, beautiful rice terraces, strange dances – the Balinese culture is one of the most exotic on earth. And everywhere, there are iconic sights: the image of an old man in a conical coolie hat, herding a flock of waddling ducks down the road at dawn is one I’ll never forget.
To many people, the word Ethiopia still means “famine” rather than “tourist destination”. But LP calls it one of the world’s most exotic places, with its own language, cuisine, church and even coffee. It has deserts, mountains, volcanoes, camel markets, churches carved into mountainsides – a smorgasbord of sights to see. It also has great history: this was the land of the Queen of Sheba. As well, it has a thriving population of indigenous people, still living in their traditional ways. And, says LP, you won’t be climbing over other tourists to see the sights.
My alternative: the Cook Islands If you want somewhere to go in 2017 that’s a step beyond the usual tourist track, the Cooks are a great choice. They’re a hop away from places like Fiji and New Zealand, but less touristed and with a more authentic Pacific culture. If you’ve seen the photos of turquoise blue lagoons, swaying palms and raven-haired maidens with flowers in their hair, you’ve had a primer on the Cook Islands. There’s not a lot of spectacular things to do, but when you can go fishing on the reef, wander through the ruins of an ancient marae, or just lie on a sun-kissed beach, what else do you need?
Those are Lonely Planet’s ideas for the 10 best places to go in 2017, along with my own baby boomer-friendly suggestions. Whether you’re an adventurer, an armchair traveller or somewhere in between, there’s probably at least one place in the list that could make it worthwhile to book your ticket. But of course, you don’t need to do it today: planning your dream trip is the best way to while away those cold winter nights.