The world's hottest destinations in 2014

Last updated 05:00 29/12/2013

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Fairfax Media's globetrotting contributors cast their votes for the big six countries set to make their presence felt next year.

COLOMBIA

As peace settles in Colombia and visitors seek to broaden their South America travel, this once-infamous country is the continent's slumbering tourism giant.

In the past 10 years, tourism here has grown by 300 per cent but still there remains a small window of opportunity to visit before the tourism boom really strikes.

What you'll find is a place of remarkable diversity and distinct regional identities. Its cities are surprisingly cosmopolitan and varied, from the cool mountain heights of Bogota, to rejuvenated stunner Medellin, or the sultry Caribbean vibe of Cartagena.

The country's natural wonder is Tayrona National Park, where baking Caribbean beaches lie in sight of the snow-tipped peaks of the world's highest coastal range.

There's also the hiking playground of El Cocuy National Park in the Andes and the steaming volcanoes of Los Nevados National Park that back the World Heritage-listed coffee region outside of Pereira.

Visit the salsa dens of Cali, South America's second-largest carnaval at Barranquilla, and the 5000-year-old rock sculptures at San Agustin.

DON'T GO HOME WITHOUT ...Cycling in Bogota's Sunday ciclovia, when streets close to cars; lazing on a beach in Tayrona National Park; or taking a Pablo Escobar tour in Medellin.

- Andrew Bain

ICELAND

Even if you've never visited, Iceland seems familiar, with Reykjavik's nightlife and the Blue Lagoon almost tourism cliches.

However, this year's hit novel Burial Rites by Australian Hannah Kent, set in remote northern Iceland, has helped draw attention to an island beyond the fire and ice.

Hiring a four-wheel-drive vehicle and getting off the sole ring road in Europe's least densely inhabited country - population 320,000 - is a rare adventure. In the little visited but wildly beautiful Westfjords region, dirt roads wind through snow-peaked mountains, skirt plunging fjords and follow glacial valleys to the sea.

You can free camp behind empty beaches and kayak offshore among minke whales and seals. In neighbouring North Iceland,

there is diving in freshwater tinted like blue curacao in inland fissures, and on towering undersea fumaroles in Eyjafjord.

Icelandic people, warm and funny, and new Nordic cuisine, reinventing traditional dishes such as cod cheeks, add to the pull of what is, following 2008's currency devaluation, a much more affordable destination.

DON'T GO HOME WITHOUT ...Trekking on Hornstrandir, Westfjords' uninhabited nature reserve, closer to Greenland than Reykjavik; communing with puffins on 400-metre cliffs at Latrabjarg, Iceland's westernmost point; visiting gnarled magma fields, vents belching thermal steam and convulsive mud-pots around Lake Myvatn.

- Daniel Scott

MYANMAR

Myanmar is hot, hot, hot and for two reasons: firstly, the door has been opened on a piece of Asia that has been isolated from the pressures of development (and, indeed, tourism) for five decades; and secondly, it offers so much to the traveller it is hard to know where to begin.

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The country has all the beauty of Thailand's coastal and mountain regions but only a fraction of it has been seen by outsiders.

Famous treasures such as the Shwedagon Pagoda, the temples of Bagan and the city of Mandalay are not only culturally important, they pack a serious punch.

And the river city of Yangon presents an intriguing blend, with half seeming as though nothing has changed since the British abandoned it in 1948, and the other half frantically redeveloping itself into a megalopolis.

Perhaps because the Asian century is homogenising so much of the region, Myanmar is truly a "last chance to see" (Malaysia/Thailand 30 years ago, Vietnam 15 years ago, Cambodia 10 years ago - take your pick).

But the "Burmese gold rush" is well-named, with foreigners rushing in to stake their claim on what's likely to be a fast and furious reinvention.

Tourist infrastructure is already taking a firm hold: mini backpacker districts are blooming and there are even five-star retreats, if you know where to look.

DON'T GO HOME WITHOUT ...Getting off the beaten track (even behind the domestic tourist hot spot of Lake Inle, there are mountain villages that have never seen a westerner); cruising the "Road to Mandalay"; or taking drinks on a Friday night in the bar of 1901 Yangon waterfront hotel The Strand.

- Max Anderson

BRAZIL

Exploring Brazil, a country bigger than Australia, can seem a daunting proposition.

However, a new alliance between LAN Airlines and Brazil's TAM has made getting around the country easier than ever before. That makes this a great time to create your own Brazilian cocktail.

Start off with a splash of natural wonder. The mighty Amazon, Iguacu Falls and the Pantanal wetlands are well known but Brazil has plenty of other lesser-known marvels, such as the surreal Lencois Maranhenses, a series of white-sand dunes studded with turquoise lagoons.

Throw in a dash of architecture to taste - either a colonial gem such as Paraty or Ouro Preto, or the ultra-modern fantasy that is Brasilia - then add an African inflection with a shot of Salvador de Bahia, former slaving port and now party capital.

Top it off with some big-city buzz courtesy of Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo, add a sprinkling of beach time and that irresistible samba beat, and you have a true taste of Brazil.

DON'T GO HOME WITHOUT ...Kayaking the Amazon; grooving in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil's most African city; or savouring the colonial delights of Ouro Preto.

- Ute Junker

OMAN

Mega-cities Dubai and Abu Dhabi have experienced spectacular growth in the past decade or so, but for some, all that glitz is more headache than heaven.

That's why neighbouring Oman is having its moment.

A few years ago, this small country, which is still ruled by a sultan, was just opening up to tourists but in 2014, with the unveiling of two significant and stunning new hotel projects - the Alila resort at Jabal Akhdar in the rugged central mountains and the Rotana resort in Salalah in the lush south - there will be more options to experience Oman's breathtaking natural beauty, from poetic desert to green mountains to some of the most beautiful coastline on earth, edging a pristine sea that's ideal for diving and water sports.

Oman's capital, Muscat, is only a 45-minute flight from Dubai but it is like stepping into a page of exotica from The Arabian Nights. Sultan Qaboos has modernised his country and kept it one of the most stable in the region, but he has done so without compromising the authentic charms of an entrancing culture.

DON'T GO HOME WITHOUT ...Visiting the sublime Sultan Qaboos Mosque in Muscat; shopping in the exotic souk at Mutrah; or climbing the fort in the old capital, Nizwa.

- Lee Tulloch

VANUATU

Every year, an increasing number of Australians discover that Vanuatu is spectacular, landing in Port Vila and fanning out over the extraordinary archipelago of 83 islands.

With rumours swirling in Hollywood of a South Pacific remake, there's a good chance the world is about to be let in on the secret, too. This makes 2014 ideal for a bit of adventure: forget the cruise ships; pack a snorkel, and bunny-hop from Efate to one of the lesser-known spots.

Malekula is the place to go for astonishing cultural traditions and rugged jungle treks through old cannibal sites (malampa.travel); Espiritu Santo is famed for its diving, particularly around the sunken SS President Coolidge.

For something completely different - and utterly bizarre - head to Pentecost Island in April and May for the land diving festival (think bungee jumping off a tower made of sticks).

DON'T GO HOME WITHOUT ... Staking out a luxury safari tent on the private island of Ratua, Espiritu Santo (ratua.com/en); getting up close to one of the world's most accessible active volcanoes, Yasur on Tanna Island; exploring the abandoned detritus of World War II by diving at Million Dollar Point.

- Lance Richardson

- FFX Aus

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